"Hitching a Ride" by Desiree Kendrick — Our December 2019 Bronze Medal Winner

by - Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Desiree Kendrick is our third place winner from the contest posted in our December, 2019 issue!

What the judges had to say:

"Each character is wonderfully unique, we get potently distilled descriptions of them."

"I loved the little details of this story: leaves twirling like a square dance, trees disrobing, and a beard like poppy-seed cake. They contributed strongly to the atmosphere and mood."
"I found the story creative and unique."

"Intertwining 3 characters linked to one image was a very sophisticated way to engage the reader. The opening hook was also great. This story captured my attention, made me smile, gave the image a twist of fantasy; and gave the reader a sense of ethereal observership over the lives of 3 interesting protagonists. Nicely done!"

Meet Desiree:

An Event Planner by day, a writer by night, Desiree Kendrick fused her Bachelor of Arts with a Project Management certificate. Publishing credits include Blank Spaces magazine, Nod literary magazine, Black Dog Review. You can read her work at desireekendrick.com.

The photo prompt:

  the unedited story:

Hitching a Ride

by Desiree Kendrick

Harold McMillan was a man of his word. He arrived at his tire shop every morning at seven- thirty and flipped the open sign. The smell of concrete, rubber and gasoline was familiar comfort. Home. If he promised a wheel alignment by days end then customers drove out the overhead doors grinning. Satisfaction guaranteed.

Harold sang in the church choir. “My baritone is better than a bullfrog,” he joked

His truck hummed to old country tunes. Sunshine warmed the upholstery. Red and gold leaves twirled, like a square dance in the breeze. Harold returned to his shop. Sunday was for paperwork. Since his wife Irene passed on three years ago, he’d taken to keeping a routine.

Natalia Parasynchuk owned the bakery next door. She maintained a schedule. Before the sun woke, her cinnamon buns rose on a cookie sheet. Her cheese scones were a town favourite. By the time she unlocked the door, flour covered her apron. Grey hair curled around her face

“I can handle the heat,” she’d say, sweat dotting her forehead.

All day she’d scurry from the kitchen to the front counter. Her thick stockings sagged at her ankles. Natalia paid no attention to her wrinkled appearance. However, she took care, shaping her sugar cookies.

“Melt-in-your-mouth heaven,” according to Harold.

She donated her day-old loaves to the community food bank. “Everyone has to eat.” A proud woman, Natalia never took sick days. “So little time,” she complained, her knuckles raw.

Toby scooped up the stale bread once a week for his mama. Time dragged, according to Toby. He’d ride his bike down the alleyways passing the same scene day after day. People milling about, going nowhere. Polite handshakes exchanged with men tipping their baseball caps. Boring. Homework finished, he abandoned the library.

“Too dull.” He slammed the hardcover.

Toby ignored yield signs and coasted down hills. The wind tousled his shaggy hair. He zipped down Main Street, past boarded up shops and charred building remains. The scorched earth stank.

Every day stuck on repeat. No after-school job hid behind the horizon. After working a late shift, his mama slept until mid-afternoon. Typical. Nobody awake. He did wheelies on autopilot and kicked up dust. Gravel crunched. The afternoon train whistled and he pedaled faster. Jumping the track was more exciting than watching mama’s Jeopardy re-runs. The trees disrobed, like every fall before. The wind howled.

Natalia tasted raspberry jam on her lips. Had she turned off the oven? Her clothes smelled smoky. She shifted in her chair and tugged on her tights. Across the aisle sat Harold, pants stained with grease. She’d never noticed how speckled his beard was before now. It reminded her of poppy seed cake. She turned the ragged pages of an outdated magazine. How long had she been sitting here? The waiting room was bland. Antiseptic. Cold.

“Good day Harold.” Natalia nodded in his direction

“Same to you.” He wiped his palms on his thighs. Harold stared at the white walls, the metallic chairs and the coffee table bolted to the floor. “I guess I had this appointment for some time. I don’t recall making it.”

“That’s what happens to us older folk.” Natalia smoothed the shabby apron over her belly. “These things sneak up on you. I burnt the scones this morning.”

Harold scrunched up his eyes. “My taste buds are done-for. I loved those biscuits.” His speech gruff, he wondered if he was losing his voice. “How did you get here?” He folded his arms, and a button popped on his plaid shirt.

“It was a long ride.” She clutched her chest. “Bad ticker runs in the family. And you?” Her eyes softened.

“Took the express lane. I meant to throw out those old rags. They were sitting in a barrel out back. I suppose the sun started the fire. Memory’s like ashes. Soiled. I remember the firetruck sirens but not much after that. Didn’t expect this,” he rolled his eyes.

Natalia pointed a finger at Harold. “You! I didn’t burn the scones. It was you!”

Harold squirmed. “Sorry ‘bout that.”

Swoosh! Had the room shrunk? His knees almost touched the coffee table. Harold glanced at the young man cowering in the corner chair.

“Hey kid, how’d you get here?” Harold croaked.

Toby hung his head. He picked at the frayed threads of his jeans.

“Leave him be,” said Natalia. “He’s shy. I rarely saw him with any other kids.”

Toby’s lip quivered. His right knee vibrated. He’d give anything to pedal his bicycle and daydream. Stupid – stupid – stupid! His eyes glassed over.

“Are you alright, son?” Natalia patted his shoulder. He looked so thin. Fragile as the macaroons that she’d never bake again.

“The train wrecked my bike, so I must have hitch-hiked,” blurted Toby. His voice trembled and his body slumped. “I figured a trip to somewhere else was better than....”

“Humph!” said Harold.

Natalia’s dagger-glare hushed Harold. “Well you’re with us now. Someone will come soon.”

“I had your sugar cookies once,” said Toby. “Mama brought them home for my birthday.”

Natalia covered Toby’s hands with her own. “I wish you’d talked to someone. You could have come into the shop. No one should feel alone.”

Harold coughed. “Hitch-hiked? Why rush?”

“It was an accident, right?” Natalia asked.

Toby didn’t know the answer.

Beep – beep – beep! They looked up, pupils white. Harold’s knees bumped the table. A neon sign flashed ‘NEXT’ alongside a name in smaller print.

Toby gasped. “That’s me.” He stood up and opened the door.

A blinding light forced everyone to squint. Harold relaxed, a choir serenaded. The wind slammed the door behind Toby.

“Did you see anything?” asked Natalia, her dentures chattering.

“Nothing.” Harold reached for her hands. “I guess we all hitch-hiked, took a trip to the unknown.”

Harold was in no rush to reunite with his late wife. “Maybe they’ll call us together,” Natalia whispered.

“You’re not alone,” Harold promised.

And they waited. Harold McMillan was a man of his word.

[Read the first and second place stories]

Learn how you can participate in one of our Write-Prompt Flash Fiction Contests HERE

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