This is the 17th round of The Alphabet Challenge mentioned in THIS<<link post. As a refresher, the Broxson twins, Gary and Perry, and I will each write one story for each letter of the alphabet. Meaning, a story whose title begins with the given letter. For this round, it’s the letter “Q“.
Readers have two weeks from the date of publication to vote for their favorite story in the current round. Points will be assigned to each writer based on total votes received.
In each round, the story with the most votes gets three points. Second place gets two points, third place gets one point. In the case of a tie, the points for the tied rankings are added and then split equally among the writers who tied. At the end of the year, we tally up and crown the winner with the most points.
Long or short, each story will appear on its own post and the trio will be followed by a fourth post where readers can vote.
The writing challenge has no restrictions and the stories span a wide gamut of genres. The majority of the stories fall in the PG-rating range with a few perhaps pushing into the soft R-rating. Some readers might find a few of the stories disturbing because of the topics, language, and/or plot points, and if so, stop reading and move on.
Here we go. Presented anonymously, the second of three stories with titles beginning with the letter “Q” as submitted by its author.
Copyright 2020 — Gary Broxson
(3,464 words – approx. reading time: about 13 minutes based on 265 WPM)
The grocery cart rumbled across the Dixie Pig parking lot as the baby on board slept. Martha Dixon mined the recesses of her cavernous purse for car keys, simultaneously texting her husband that he would have to get his own damn jock itch cream because she was not standing in line at the Pharmacy with all those old farts complaining about prices. The cart whizzed by a Voodoo Blue FJ Cruiser with random stickers on the spare tire cover. Prevailing winds and gentle slopes pushed the cart/baby carriage toward fast traffic on King’s Way Road.
“My baby!” Martha cried. She cringed at the cliché exclamation she, as a woke mother in the new century, never thought she would ever scream. But as her cart full of groceries and her newborn were rocking and rolling across the macadam full tilt, she resorted to a primal mother’s cry.
From the south end of the lot, another grocery cart was launched. It broke parking lot speed limits as it uncannily threaded its way between parked cars and surprised patrons. Just inches before sleeping Suzy became a casualty, the speeding empty cart intersected with the full cart, causing a tremendous clang and a clash, but otherwise stopping the careless cart harmlessly, aside from a tomato spilling and splattering to the pavement, perhaps as a not-so-subtle reminder from Sister Fate.
Martha ran to her baby and with a mother’s strength, she dislodged her intertwined grocery cart from the empty one. Successful and safe, she looked around to see if anyone had videoed the unfortunate event or was on a phone call with child protective services. She saw no 1984-type activity, just old folks doddering in and out of the Pig like the walking dead. Just out of the corner of her eye she noticed a rather large black man in a red Dixie Pig shirt and traffic-yellow vest pushing a singularly long stack of grocery carts toward the store. She recognized the big man as Quincy, the cart keeper.
Everyone knew, or thought they knew, Quincy. He had been working at Dixie Pig for upward of 30 years. His mother, Witch Honey, had worked at DP as a pharmacist in the early 90’s. When a sign was posted for cart wranglers, she introduced her nine-year-old son, already as big as a brown bear, to the manager. He cited rules, laws, and ethics. Honey sucked his dick dry. Quincy got a low paying job and Mr. Jendry got a witchy woman blow job. Quid pro blow.
Witch Honey had taken Quincy in when he was abandoned at her doorstep in 1983. It was the year that Cabbage Patch dolls came up for adoption and Honey decided to apply for the real thing. She named him Quincy because she loved to watch Jack Klugman solve crimes and set the world right as the title character. He was a forensic pathologist and a regular guy that always seemed to do the right thing at the right time (in about 50 minutes), even when those around him called for silence and compliance.
The package left on Honey’s doorstep that winter was damaged. The foundling had been physically abused and permanently stricken but Honey didn’t waver in her care. Honey had her own maladies—raisin-size ovaries. She was barren as her sainted mother reminded her until her early death. She would never be able to have her own children and this was her only chance at motherhood. After careful examination, she realized that her doorstep bundle was still an amazing gift, just packaged poorly. Baby Quincy had a crushed left foot that would forever turn outwards and keep him ten steps behind his peers. And the dents in his head and random eye movements would place him in a special education class where teachers talked very loud and very slow. Other than that, and being mute, he was perfect.
The boy grew visibly. Witch Honey actually witnessed the boy bursting out of his pampers after a nourishing meal of formula fortified with cloves, castle berries, and goat urine (for stubbornness and flavor). He grew strong and he grew fast, he just didn’t grow smart.
After Quincy panned out as a hard-working, dependable cart wrangler, Mr. Jendry hired more mentally challenged employees. He realized they were great public relations symbols and they would take half the pay of a regular employee. He hired Todd, who had no volume control. Most people called him Tard, but he didn’t care. When a woman discreetly asked him where she could find the jock itch cream for her husband, he yelled out at the top of his lungs: “LADY, YOU’VE GOT TO GET YOUR JOCK ITCH CREAM FROM THE PHARMACY!” She turned her cart with baby-on-board toward the exit door in a huff.
But then there was Darla. She was beautiful. She was overly gifted in that she was born with a beatific smile with amazing thick lips and eyelids and an extra copy of her 21st chromosome resulting in Down syndrome. Darla could function, boy could she function. She knew every aisle in the Dixie Pig and every item on every shelf. She greeted every customer by name and asked about their kids or grandkids. She winked at Quincy when he pushed a string of carts past her station, but he never made real eye contact; his lazy left eye continuously looked north and west, like he was forever pondering a particularly difficult answer to one of Alex Trebek’s Jeopardy questions.
For their dinners together, Witch Honey made a big deal of heating and serving the left-over Dixie Pig deli sandwiches or outdated buckets of chicken wings Quincy brought home each night. The Deli Darlings, as they were called, always handed Quincy a grease-stained sack to take home each evening, knowing that his mother was sick. Witch Honey was very sick indeed; her skin was turning yellow and tissue-thin. Her lady-raisins were swelling, burning, and sharing their poison with the rest of her body. She thought of her blazing ovaries as twin suns, snorting at the ugly pun she conjured, wishing she could share her gallows humor with her doting, yet delayed son.
Quincy seemed to understand that something was wrong with his mother, but he could not label it as he had millions of items on the shelves of Dixie Pig. He just stocked the canned corn and pushed the grocery carts day-in, day-out.
Although he could expertly maneuver two dozen daisy-chained grocery carts across a packed parking lot, Quincy was never able to obtain a driver’s license. He never complained, never said a word, he just got up at 4:30 each morning and walked, more precisely, shuffled to the Dixie Pig four miles from home in every kind of weather. His left foot dragged and pushed, dragged and pushed like a broken machine, making his way to and from the Dixie Pig as constant as a metronome.
Witch Honey realized her time was short. The cancer in her womb mocked her with every fiery pang. The organs that betrayed her in youth, leaving her barren, had now rallied and conspired to murder her. Her potions and nostrums were useless against this pernicious disease. Even witches die, but Honey would not leave her beloved adopted son without a fighting chance.
Deep within her sack of marvels and magic, she retrieved an ampule. Witch Honey held the tiny glass vial close to her heart and prayed to the mother of all witches, Witch Lilith. She asked for power, she asked for a miracle, she asked for the kind of magic that makes a difference in the world.
The ampule was dated 2002, the same year that God bent down from heaven to whisper into President George Bush’s ear that embryonic stem cell research and therapy was devil- science. Following that enlightening conversation, promising stem cell research would be banned until a less stupid president was elected. Witch Honey did not have high hopes for the latter. As directed by the state and the pharmacy, she had destroyed the entire lot of life-changing drugs as prescribed by law, saving only one dose for a destiny yet unknown.
The salvaged ampule contained a single dose of Re-Algernon, a trial drug that contained a powerful agent supposedly capable of re-energizing the brain to a point of clarity or even boosting it to superior intelligence. After much meditation and a river of tears, Witch Honey retrieved the stolen potion from her Victoria Secret underwear drawer and loaded it into a syringe.
That night her lady-plumbing raged. Her ovaries simmered like coals and her energy waned. The cancer was spreading quickly and Witch Honey resolved to embrace her fate. Quincy had walked the four miles home, crossing the railroad tracks to the darker side of town. He had eaten a late dinner of macaroni and cheese with rubbery chicken tenders, the left-overs from the deli.
As Quincy slumbered like a six-and-a-half-foot newborn, his club foot dangling from the small bed, Witch Honey prepared her final gift to her beloved adopted son. She rallied the last of her strength to stand up behind the sleeping giant and plunge a 20 gauge needle into the back of her son’s thick neck. The science behind her last-chance drug was dubious, but desperate times called for desperate measures.
Quincy never even awoke during his mother’s bizarre assault. The injected serum coursed through his veins and into his brain, seemingly in search of crossed-up chromosomes and fragmented genes. The embryonic stem cells nourished and kick-started dormant regions of Quincy’s brain as he slept. By the following morning, things had changed.
The alarm blared at 4:30 a.m. The first thing Quincy noticed was the smell. His mother had died during the night but she had scattered rose petals and potpourri on her own death bed so that her son would not remember her as a stinking, bowel-evacuating, corpse. The room smelled like a floral shop.
Quincy realized right away that his mother was gone. He lumbered to her bedside, reeling from the novel thoughts and vivid pictures that were flashing in his developing brain. For the first time in his life, Quincy cried. A tiny voice inside his head cried too, but quickly dried up and demanded that Quincy squelch his frivolous emotions. Quincy did not listen to the tiny voice. He cried unabashedly over his mother until a neighbor came and called for a futile ambulance—Witch Honey was dead.
Not knowing what to do, Quincy walked to work as he had done every day for more than 30 years. The tiny voice inside his head was louder now, and rose to the top of his consciousness. It grew in size, strength, and volume with every hour. And then it took on a life of its own.
“Quincy, can you hear me? I know you can, because I’m you. But can you understand me?
Quincy stopped within only a quarter-mile of the Dixie Pig. He shook his massive head, the dreadlocks his mother had braided whipped from side to side like ebony octopus tentacles. The voice subsided. He trudged on to work.
The news spread rapidly among the small family of clerks and staff at the Dixie Pig. They watched incredulously as Quincy pushed carts all day long in the rain. The downpour masked the tears that fell from his oblique eyes. Darla tried to comfort her large friend, but got little response from the silent giant.
The rain poured from the heavens as if the angels themselves were crying for Witch Honey. Mr. Jendry, the boss’s son, was the new manager at the Dixie Pig following Senior’s death the previous year. Old Mr. Jendry had made his upstart son promise to keep Quincy on the floor as long as Witch Honey was alive as he had made an unbreakable vow with the witchy woman—he stated emphatically that his soul depended on it.
Jendry Junior called Quincy to his office over the store’s intercom. Many of the staff cringed when they heard the announcement. Quincy had only been to the manager’s office once in 30 odd years. The first time was to get a handshake and a paycheck from a smiling Mr. Jendry Senior and now it was to get a severance check and a boot from his son.
“I lived up to my promise to the old man,” young Jendry explained to a non-responsive Quincy, who sat solid like a massive statue in an aluminum chair in the small office. “Now that your momma has passed…may she rest in peace,” he bowed his head and crossed himself in melodramatic respect. “We are no longer obliged to keep you on. Times are tough for our organization, as you may well know. Do you follow the stock market and the economical trends?” Jendry Jr. waited for Quincy to respond—he didn’t, but his left eye slowly drifted up toward the ceiling.
“Well, we will hate to see you leave our Piggy family, but it is in the best interest of our organization to dismiss you. You see, Quince, there’s been some E-comments from our longtime patrons. I had a mother last week tell me that you frightened her newborn with those crazy eyes and that scary scowl of yours. This is a friendly, family store and we need more inviting staff.” He sat back in his father’s huge leather chair, the same one in which Witch Honey had made her contract with his father.
Quincy rose. He shuffled up to the cheap pine-plied desk. Jendry Jr. rolled back from his dead father’s desk. The ceiling light was eclipsed by the big black man. Jendry cringed in his massive shadow. The voice inside Quincy’s head began to speak. “That asshole. After all the years you have slaved for him and his fat bastard father. You should reach down and strangle him.”
Quincy bent down, his hands opened like giant pincers. “No, stop!” the voice said. It paused to think as Jendry Jr. dialed 911 on his desk phone. “It’s nice to know that you at least hear me. You can be so…stubborn. But, no. There will be no stranglings today.”
The big man backed away and Jendry Junior hung up the phone. Wiping the sweat from his brow, “So, you understand? You are terminated, fired, gone, kaput, free to walk the earth like Caine?” Quincy did not acknowledge the obscure allusion, he just walked back to the parking lot and continued collecting stray carts.
The storm continued to surge. The rain beat down on the aluminum roof of the Dixie Pig grocery store like the devil’s own set of symbols. A low beat resonated throughout the store, almost lulling the staff into a rain-sleep until a thunderous strike hit close by and knocked down a tree which fell onto the county’s power lines. Lights out!
The gray cone of a tornado whipped and formed from the ether. It started, then stopped, then seemed to re-emerge and swoop down, sentiently choosing its intended target.
Descending from the heavens like the dirty finger of God, the tornado drilled into the Dixie Pig. The roof peeled back like a sardine can. Food flew from the shelves, cans became mortar shells, people scrambled like bugs. It only lasted for an eternal minute, then it was gone. Back to Kansas perhaps.
Darkness shrouded the demolished grocery store. Strange sounds emerged; creaking, snapping, settling. A flashlight flicked on. Darla’s face lit up like a jack-o’-lantern. She got on the intercom and keyed the mike. Even in her fear she instinctively decided to make the others in the store smile. “We need a cleanup on aisle five.” The darkness instantly became less oppressive; someone could be heard chuckling under the rubble.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” she continued. “If you can walk, I need you to follow my light to the back of the store. The regular entrance and exits are blocked. We can gather in the cold storage compartment until help arrives.”
Suddenly Mr. Jendry was next to Darla. “Why the freezer? Why not just hunker down in my office until somebody comes to save us?” A large section of the roof collapsed with a boom onto Mr. Jendry’s office.
“That’s why,” Darla said. “This place is falling apart and the freezer section in reinforced steel.”
Darla led the way, Jendry followed. A few patrons saw the light and fell in line. Todd could be heard dying under a mountain of Spaghetti-o’s. His loud, obnoxious voice was waning.
The silver door reflected Darla’s light like the doorway to heaven. It opened with a sucking sound and they quickly gathered inside the chilly room. Sounds from outside the compartment were muffled, but the vibrations of the falling structure could be felt in the thick walls.
“Give me that flashlight,” Mr. Jendry said, taking it from Darla’s hand. “I know there’s a switch in here somewhere.” He made strange shadow puppets on the wall as he searched with the beam. “Here it is, the backup generator.”
“No!” Darla screamed as he flipped the switch.
Something sputtered, then rumbled, then smoothed out into a guttural purr. Lights flickered.
“The wires outside, didn’t you see the wires?”
With his last breath, Todd screamed… “Fiiiiiiiiiiiiirrrrrrre!”
A dangling wire had sparked a mound of Ramen Noodles like kindling. The fire spread quickly, following a maze pathway up and down each aisle. Beams weakened and snapped, the framework was collapsing all around the silver door.
Mr. Jendry pulled at the door handle. “We’ve got to get out of here,” he shouted. The door was wedged tight by a half-ton beam that had pinned it shut. “This was your idea,” Mr. Jendry snapped at Darla. “Now we’re going to roast like turkeys in an oven.”
“We need to conserve our oxygen,” Darla whispered to those in the room on the verge of panic. “Maybe this is a good time to pray,” she said in a comforting tone.
The cool room quickly heated up. The aluminum walls began to glow and warp. Darla asked everyone to move to the center of the small room, away from the radiating heat. They huddled up, their backs to the oven walls.
“What do you think you’re doing? You can’t go back in there, the place is an inferno,” the voice inside Quincy’s head said. Quincy ignored the pesky voice and rammed a shopping cart through the front door glass.
“You don’t understand, we have a future now. I can help you become a better person. We can learn things, do things, dream things you never could have imagined before.”
Quincy bulldozed his way into the burning store, flinging boards and flaming debris to the side as he made a path toward the back.
“This is like riding an elephant,” the voice said to itself. “Listen to me, please. It’s just that idiot Jendry, the man that fired you. Let him burn, damn you. Let him burn.”
Outside the freezer, Darla heard a groan. It was the sound of metal on metal. The silver door buckled just a bit. She grabbed a coat that was hanging on a peg in the room for employees that stocked the freezer. She wrapped it around her arms and pushed at the red-hot door. It creaked opened.
Jendry and the others scrambled out of the room. Just outside the doorway stood Quincy. Looking like a black Atlas, he held up the beam that had blocked the door. It was the lynch pin that kept the entire roof from caving in. The fire around them still raged. Jendry dashed ahead, following the path to safety that Quincy had carved with his shopping cart.
Darla remained. Quincy looked down at the girl, his eyes for the first time focusing on hers. She unwrapped the coat from her arms and reached up to fit it around his massive shoulders to stave off some of the intense heat. As she did this, she kissed him and whispered, “Thank you.”
The last person to crawl from the freezer grabbed Darla’s hand and pulled her away, racing down the open aisle as the building collapsed around them. “Quiiiiiinceeeee!” she shouted as they fled.
Quincy watched as Darla was pulled to safety. He could hold the beam no longer. His withered leg buckled and snapped. He went to his knees.
“Quincy, old boy,” the tiny voice whispered. “I wouldn’t have done it this way. But here we are. I regret that I won’t get to know you better. You could probably teach me a few things. Mother was right about you…
The shifting beam released the girders; one by one they tumbled down upon Quincy and the flames returned to claim the elephant and the rider.
If you’ve already read the other two stories and are ready to vote, click HERE<<<Link and you’ll be taken to the voting poll.
If you’ve not read the other two stories, they can be found at the following links:
Quid Pro Joe <<Link
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