Below, you’ll find my submission to Round Two of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2015. For this round, 240 writers were broken into eight groups of thirty writers each and given three days to create a 2000-word story using their group’s prompts. The first two days, I struggled with a different story for submission.
Late Saturday night, however, the character of Dead End Edna drifted into my head. Her story haunted me. I couldn’t let her — or perhaps she wouldn’t let me — go, and on Sunday morning, I ran with the idea like a man possessed.
This is the tale of Dead End Edna.
Genre: Ghost Story
Object: A Statue
Character: A Waitress
Edna Gallo’s childhood had been cursed with one dead end after another, but when her life came to an abrupt dead end, she finally started living.
Dead End Edna
They say you should be careful what you pray for because you might just get it.
The day I prayed for a guardian angel, one fell on me from the heavens. It was an art deco statue, and I was dead before the sirens started ringing.
That’s when life got good.
Up to that point, I’d had all the luck of a neutered unicorn.
For instance, I wasn’t blessed with the same curves and Mediterranean beauty as my mother. Instead, I inherited my father’s traits. He was short and fat.
And I was never as excited as the summer I lost my two front teeth, but after a year, my adult ones still hadn’t cut through.
“They’ll come in; don’t worry,” said every dentist and perky hygienist I visited, yet the x-rays showed nary an incisor.
“Do you know what it’s like being called ‘Snaggletooth’ for a year? It gets old after about, I don’t know…a week.” They didn’t understand. Or care.
That first Christmas, all I really wanted was my two front teeth, but Mom and Dad, unable to afford a prosthetic bridge, gave me a box of Chiclets instead.
“Shove two of these in the gap until the coating wears off. If you keep your lip raised, they should last all day. Oh, and try not to salivate.”
Needless to say, I chewed a lot of gum growing up.
My teeth finally came in when I hit puberty, ending up just a little bigger than the Chiclets. I was happier, but missed the fresh breath.
Puberty also brought other developments, and not the kind that a young girl wanted. While all the other girls grew prettier and taller and had legs that could easily stretch around a quarterback’s neck, I grew a total of five inches – and a mustache.
I was a towering, four-foot-two teenager with a high-pitched, squeaky voice and whiskers.
“Mom,” I piped one day from the bathroom, “could you help me wax my mustache? The girls are calling me Minnie Mouse again.”
Our housecat walked by, arched its back, and hissed.
Another hiss, and he scampered.
“And while we’re at it, let’s get rid of that cat. Every time I speak, he licks his chops and looks at me like I’m a bowl of Friskies.”
No matter what I did – from waxing my mustache to stuffing my bra to wearing lifts in my shoes – the girls bullied me relentlessly.
So I cowered in the corner, kept quiet, and disappeared into the cinderblock walls every year.
After a while, nobody even noticed me.
It was the autumn after I’d graduated that it happened.
Every weekend, I’d spend my afternoons downtown, gazing in the windows, wishing I were as beautiful as the customers who shopped there – or at least as tall as the mannequins.
Afterward, I’d walk to the park, stop at the vendor for a bag of peanuts, and find a bench to read and share the nuts with the squirrels.
And that’s exactly what I was doing that day.
“Oh, look, it’s Snaggletooth Gallo,” a snarky voice said.
I gagged on the nut I was chewing and slowly raised my head. Three blondes giggled by the big live oak, one of them filming me with her smart phone.
“No, she’s not Snaggletooth anymore, not since she grew real Chiclets.”
“Too bad that’s all she grew.”
More giggling followed.
I looked down at my meager chest, still in a training bra.
One of them – Tiffany, I think – raised her top lip, exposing her two front teeth. She plopped down beside me, snatched my bag, tossed some nuts on the ground and squeaked, “Look! I’m Squirrel Girl feeding all my little squirrel friends.”
She started laughing so hard, she practically fell off the bench, and staggered back over to the tree. I didn’t see the humor, and for the first time in my life, spoke up.
“Haters! All of you!” I shouted, scattering the squirrels in all directions.
But by that time, they had turned the camera on themselves and were posing, pursing their perfect swan pouts into ugly duck lips.
“Oh…did we hurt your feelings? We’re sorry. No, really…we are.”
I paused and pushed my anger down. She actually sounded genuine.
With a wry smile, she said, “Girls, that was so high school of us. We’re graduates now, soon to be career women. We’re above that nonsense.”
“You’re right, Amber. Edna, come take a selfie with us. We’ll post it on Instagram.”
To this day I have no idea what possessed me – I guess I still needed their validation – but I shuffled over, sucked in my cheeks, threw out my lips, and gave the sexiest mugshot I could muster.
It wasn’t a bad picture, the three of them above my head and me, front-and-center. I wished my lips covered my teeth, though.
“Now to caption and post.” She tapped her screen a minute and said, “Done. You want to see?” I nodded, anxious for acceptance from the in-crowd.
Sunday in the Park with Tiffany, Amber, Heather,
and Abby Mallard from Chicken Little.
It had already racked up twenty-three likes…with a bullet.
“Abby Mallard!” Amber cackled. “Good one, Tiff.”
The blood drained from my body and a wave of nausea washed over me. I started running as fast as my stumpy legs could carry me – to nowhere, anywhere, just as far away from there as I could get.
Behind me, the mocking continued and somehow, became louder.
Still running, I turned around and, through teary eyes, saw them following me in Amber’s convertible Mini Cooper.
The next thing I knew, I was lying flat on my back, staring up at a street sign.
“Oh, my god. She ran into a ‘Dead End’ sign. It’s ‘Dead End Edna!’” They burst into laughter and cruised off, chanting “Dead End Edna” over and over until it lofted away with the wind.
I could’ve died right there and been perfectly happy.
Instead, I looked heavenward and prayed. I was at the end of my rope. “God, please send me a guardian angel to turn my life around.”
A gleam of light reflected off the pole and into my face.
Sitting up and wiping the tears away, my eyes followed the beam to a silver image at the end of the cul-de-sac. I wasn’t sure, but it looked like a…yes…could it be…an angel?
I grabbed the pole and pulled up, gathered my senses, brushed off the grass and headed toward the answer to my prayers.
In the empty lot I stopped, transfixed by the beautiful art deco angel abutting the top of the newly-built Ritz. It was designed in a 1930’s motif, with geometric lines of silver trim, and grated steam vents that lined the sidewalk.
I felt like I’d just stepped into a black and white movie.
On the door was a notice:
A waitress. I could do that. Somehow, I knew my luck had changed.
When I walked in, I was greeted by a man wearing a jet black suit with a crisp white shirt, French cuffs, and onyx links. A white folded handkerchief in the blazer’s upper pocket completed the ensemble.
He was the definition of dapper.
“Welcome! I’m Mr. Spector. Are you here for a waitress position? You’re exactly the type of girl we’re looking for.”
“Yes. I’m Edna Gallo, and I was hoping—”
“Sit right down, Ms. Gallo. Errol, bring the lady a Shirley Temple.”
A dashing older gentleman rushed me a tall drink with a cherry.
“Has anyone ever told you that you’re the spitting image of Errol—?”
“Here’s your application, Ms. Gallo.”
“Thank you.” I sipped my drink and began writing. That Mr. Spector sure had an annoying habit of interrupting.
Fifteen minutes later, I finished, handed it back, and after an hour or more of talking, laughing, and having the best time of my life, I heard those two words I longed for:
“Thank you! Thank you, Mr. Spector. You won’t regret it.”
“Good. You start tonight. Run home and change and I’ll see you at 5:00.”
More excited than I was the summer my teeth came in, I raced home, showered, threw on my best dress and stopped by the hairdresser for a 1930’s glamour ‘do.
When I arrived at the Ritz, the evening air was chilly, making the warm steam rising from the grated vents all the more welcome.
I paused to enjoy it and looked up at my angel.
“Thank you,” I said, blowing him a kiss.
Instead of overlooking the park like he usually did, he looked down at me, lovingly, smiling.
And getting larger.
He julienned me right through the steam grate, clean as a whistle.
I floated up with the steam and hovered over my giblets, then saw Mr. Spector at the door, assessing the situation.
But he wasn’t looking at the statue. He was looking directly at me.
He opened the door.
“Come in, Ms. Gallo.”
I glided past him and sat down. I guess I sat. I couldn’t feel the chair.
He must have known what I was thinking because he said, “You’ll get used to it. Before long, you’ll even be able to make yourself visible to the living, like I did with you.”
“You mean, I’m not going to be a waitress?”
“Ms. Gallo – Edna – you’re dead.”
“Well, I kind of figured that after the slice-and-dice.”
“But we do have a job for you.”
“You…you caused this?”
“Rest assured, it was indeed your time, but I didn’t know how to accomplish it until I heard your prayer.”
I cried. I stewed. I humphed. And then…I accepted.
“What do you want me to do?”
“You’re the new Reaper for Area Three. Errol, would you please bring Ms. Gallo a robe? And grab a sickle, not a reaper; that would be like a redwood in her hand.”
For the next month he instructed me, showing me how to carefully vapor in, touch the “mark” with my sickle, and quickly vapor out.
The first time, I threw up a puddle of ectoplasm.
“Don’t worry, it happens to everyone.”
Before long, it was time to fly solo. He handed me my first assignment, written on folded parchment.
“Simply follow the same routine you’ve been doing. Vapor yourself to this address at the time indicated. Wait for your marks. Touch them with your sickle, vapor out, and let fate do the rest.”
“Yes, it’ll be a multi-car accident spawning several fatalities. You’ll have three marks in your vehicle, different reapers will handle the others. It’ll be a glorious way to wrap up the day.”
I opened my piece of paper and read the names. My first creepy Reaper grin crept across my face.
“Yes, Mr. Spector…glorious, indeed.”
6:46 p.m., the time indicated, found me at the corner of 53rd and Main, eyes peeled, ready and waiting. A big truck carrying construction equipment blocked my view of the northbound lane.
And then, there it was: the Mini Cooper. I vapored to the back seat, touched Amber, Tiffany, and Heather, then vapored out and waited on the sidewalk.
It happened in an instant.
The truck ran the red light.
A semi crashed into its side, activating the truck bed’s release lever.
Amber slammed on her brakes, screeching to a halt inches from the truck.
“Whew! That was close,” she said, shuddering.
What? Close? But I touched them with my sickle.
The truck bed jolted back, shooting the top piece of sheet metal straight across Amber’s windshield, decapitating them in seconds.
Their heads rolled across the pavement and spun to a stop at my feet.
I looked them each in the eyes.
“The name’s not Snaggletooth…or Minnie Mouse…or Abby Mallard. It’s Dead End Edna, and it’s the end of the road for you!”
I love my new job.
M.L. Swift is a lover of words who squanders away his afternoons arranging them into sentences which, when combined, resemble fiction. He has written articles for Writer Unboxed and The Alzheimer’s Reading Room, and as a caregiver for ten years, plans a novel on his experience. He lives in the Florida panhandle with his two dogs, Rameses and Buster, and spends his nights fighting a losing battle to reclaim his side of the bed.