‘Heading East,’ a Story

Here is a short story I wrote a week or two ago for class.  I put it away for a while, and re-read it and decided it was worthy of posting on the blog.  Let me know what you think!

Heading East

Heading East

by Clinton Nix

The doors slid open with a hum as a young man stepped into the store. He was gripping a pad of paper with chicken scratchings marked on it, which he had to squint to read.
First, WD-40. He took a second, long glance at the next few items in the list.
A blanket. Some dried figs, grapes, an apple. And a flashlight.
He took a few steps forward and stopped in front of a pyramid of glossy apples.
“Can’t forget the t.p.,” he said aloud with a smirk.
He gripped one of the shiny apples and dropped it into a plastic bag. The bag swooshed as the apple hit the bottom, and he scanned the entire room from isle to isle. A faint voice echoed from across the store, caressing his ear like a leaf. He turned his head, but could not make out the lovely sound’s origin.

After picking up all the necessary items, the young man proceeded to the checkout. His eyes wandered through the isles while his shoes squeaked as they met the floor. His mind drifted to another place, and in a quick stint his right foot faltered and rolled to the side, twisting his ankle into nearly a 90 degree angle. He quickly caught his balance with a stumble, but before he continued his dream-walk, his eyes rested upon a sight that stopped him in his tracks. He opened his mouth but no words escaped his lips.

*

“Would you like your receipt?” The words that the cashier-girl spoke had less charisma than before. She wiped her forehead, cleaning the glistening sweat from underneath her hairline.
“Excuse me for just a second,” she said apologetically, as she raised her hands and tied her dark hair back into a ponytail. The old woman eyed the girl disapprovingly from the other side of the counter. The wrinkled, bitter scowl softened like stale bread in water when she witnessed the girl dabble a squirt of Purell into her palms, which she spread around until her hands were covered. Next in line was a young man with his hands buried deep in his pockets.
She glanced at him with a stare that lingered a few seconds longer than friendly, and then shot her eyes down, then back for a double take.

“Hello, how are you.” Her voice rang like an automaton, which was an inevitability after speaking the same line repeatedly. She lowered her head and scanned the blue can of WD-40 as a deafening silence rang between her and the young man. She dropped the can into the bag, which clunked as it hit bottom. Finally, a word had come to her.
“You’ve got some interesting things there. You going on a road trip?” The words seemed to flutter out of her mouth like a twirling feather. Her eyes curved to the side, and she tilted her head as she grabbed the next item.
“Yep, I’m going to drive.” The young man spoke with a firm sincerity that steadied her eyes.
“Where’you going?” she asked.
The boy took a long pause, kicking his shoes at the floor.
“I figured I’d go east.”
Just then, she noticed that his arm was bent behind his back, as if he was hiding something. She stole glances at him with the curiosity of a kitten chasing a ribbon.

*

His eyes stayed down, suppressed and away from her. He tried not to look her way, because if he did, she would surely know what he was getting to. After she rang the last item, he handed her the cash and she exchanged that with the receipt.
“Thank you,” she said disappointingly, with an awkward twist in her neck.
It was then that the young man finally revealed what he was hiding. He waved his arm out and brought it around in front of her in a rapid motion. He held a yellow daisy that was slightly bent to the side, and wrapped with cellophane at the stem.
“It’s for you,” he spoke, this time looking her directly in the eyes.
“Oh, it’s pretty.” She curved her eyes again like before. “Did you get it from over there?” She asked, pointing toward the flower stand.
“Oh, um. Yes.”
“..You still have to pay for it.” Her words rattled like a dry leaf that time.
She took the flower, and the plastic crinkled as she struggled to scan the bar-code.
“That’ll be 5.99,” she said, handing the daisy back to him.
The young man rummaged through each pocket: first his left one, then the right, then the back pockets. He had managed to scrounge up money, but he was faced with a dilemma.
“Three, four, five….five fifty,” she said to him as he wrangled through the pile of bills and coins that were spread across the counter.
“Hmm..” he uttered with a quiver. He was desperately wading through each of his pockets again and again, burrowing his head, avoiding her gaze. The girl stuck her hand deep into her apron and the clink of coins resonated through the cloth. She pulled them out, and then picked up the pile of money and put it in the cash register.
“Here’s your receipt,” she said with a limp smile.
“Thank you,” the boy responded. “Here.”

He handed her the yellow daisy, which was drooping slightly to the side, and the plastic crinkled again in her grip.
“It smells nice, thank you.” Her smile curved wide, exposing her overlapping teeth. She held the daisy near her nose, her eyes sinking into the yellow hue of the flower.
“Will you go with me?” The young man blurted out.
“Go with you?” Her eyes shot wide open with surprise as the words curved out of her mouth.
“Right now, I mean. Leave with me.”
She looked around, and there was a steady line forming behind the young man in front of her. She had completely forgotten of their existence, and their evil stares poked and prodded at her like a hot fire iron, making her squirm in pain.
“Okay. Let’s go,” she said, her eyes squinting and determined. She pulled her apron off from around her neck and placed it on the register.
There was a commotion in the line but they turned their backs and walked away, and the two did not take even a second glance behind them. The young man sneaked a few looks at the girl’s profile as she walked. Her eyes were not curved, but straight. Her gaze was a knife, slicing a path ahead of them which they walked, and he didn’t dare attract that gaze his way, or he’d surely be cut in two.

*

They approached a door that read ‘Manager’s Office,’ and stopped just beside it. She looked up at him, and noticed the boy’s eyes: they were round and deep green, and stuck out of his head with puffy lids overlapping them. He kept them fixated upon an object near the distance, as if to deliberately keep them from moving around. She scoped out that direction, but found nothing noteworthy.
“I’ll be just a second,” she said, looking at him directly. This time, he looked her directly in the face with his green eyes, with a powerful, silent glance that made her lose her train of thought.

She knocked on the door, with a soft rapping, but there was only silence in return. She twisted the knob, and the door creaked open, revealing a man tipped back in his chair; he was supported only by the weight of his feet upon the counter.
“Excuse me, knock knock.”
It took a few attempts to wake him, but soon enough his twittering eyes opened and his pupils shrank as he came to his senses.
“What is it?” he demanded with a groggy voice.
“um-” she had paused, looking down at the floor. The man in the chair had raised his eyebrows sharply in curious indignation.

“I quit! Bye bye,” she exclaimed,with a laugh and a wave. It took a few seconds for the leafy words to travel over and penetrate the sleepy man’s mind. His eyes shot wide open as the reality impacted his brain. His chair creaked violently and he fell backwards with a crash. The girl slammed the door, and both of them ran for the sliding doors that led to the parking lot.

The two sprinted with their arms out, like birds, as they left the store and inhaled the cold night air, and their bodies were illuminated only by the dull, flickering street lamps. They spiraled around the parking lot, chasing each other, giggling like little children playing a game of tag. Her pace slowed down to a trod, and the hot puffs of air escaped her mouth with increasing rapidity. She noticed her flying partner stop beside her, his breath mirroring hers. He had leaned over, and she watched him with careful eyes as he slowly rose again, his uncontrollable breath slowly sputtering into a regular pace. His hair was a bit shaggy, and it looked as though he had neglected to cut it for several months. She stuck out her hand and stretched it tightly.
“I’m Holly.”
He brought his arm out, and gripped her hand.
“I’m Kent. Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you, too,” she said, with a smile that escaped from the side of her mouth. She noticed that he was smiling too. Not like hers, though: his was a big, wide smile, and a playful chuckle escaped from his lungs.

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2 thoughts on “‘Heading East,’ a Story

  1. Certainly nothing like I’ve read before, but in a good way, it has an odd charm to it, even a little absurd. The part about the curving eyes confused me until it was compared to the man’s strait gaze, but overall I had a good time reading it. Good way of describing awkward moments.

  2. I had a lot of fun reading it. The descriptions were good and an engaging story for such a short length. Keep em’ coming dude 🙂

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