I was just informed by the judges from the Princess Ronkonkoma Productions annual prose contest that my short-short story won first prize. I submitted three. Here they are for your reading. See if you can guess which was the winner.
IT FELL TO EARTH
Eustis had a warm relationship with his grandfather, but he had come to understand that the old guy was a prankster. Fifty years ago, when Eustis was just seven, the whole country was moon mad. The moon landing that summer had captured the imagination of everyone. Not the least of which was Eustis’ grandfather. When Eustis lost his front tooth that September and was planning to leave it under his pillow for the Tooth Fairy, Eustis’ grandfather said he had a better idea.
“Wouldn’t it be more fun to send it up to the moon?” he asked, with a mischievous grin.
“You can do that, Grandpa?”
“Why, sure,” Grandpa said. “It’ll be up there forever, right next to Neil Armstrong’s flag.”
The two of them set to fixing in Grandpa’s workshop in the barn. Two things every farm in Iowa had plenty of was corn silos and manure. The manure could be converted into ammonium nitrate through a simple leaching process. Add some diesel fuel and you had yourself a pretty powerful explosive. You could fire a projectile as far as you wanted to if you used enough cow manure, or so Eustis’ grandfather said. About that, Eustis had come to believe cow manure was all the old man was spreading.
On a moon-lit night they put Eustis tooth, that day’s newspaper, and a baseball autographed by Bob Feller into an old Maxwell House coffee can, with the lid soldered back on. Shortly after they lit the fire, they watched the coffee can explode out of the corn silo and into the sky. Eustis lost sight of it pretty quickly, but Grandpa insisted he saw it go all the way to the moon. He even pointed out a dark spot that he said was the can. Eustis saw the spot and his seven-year-old mind wanted to believe. Fifty years later, his adult mind told him the spot was always there, and not his tooth in a coffee can.
Presently in Iowa there was a meteor expected to hit Earth. It was expected to land somewhere in the vicinity of the farm. Iowans were asked to bring their livestock in for the night as a safety precaution.
That night, Eustis and his sons were sitting on the porch watching for the meteor. Eustis was telling them the story of his grandfather and the tooth when they heard the meteor rip through the atmosphere with a shriek. They watched it crash and make a flaming crater right in the middle of their cornfield.
Eustis and the boys ran out to the crater. It was at least ten feet around and everything inside was burnt black. Bits of the meteor, no bigger than a fist, were still glowing. The only other thing in the hole was an old battered Maxwell House coffee can. Eustis pried off the lid to discover a tooth, a newspaper from 1969 and an autographed baseball.
Eustis looked up at the moon and saw the spot his grandfather said was his tooth was no longer where it always was.
“Well, I’ll be a son of a gun,” he said, scratching his head.
Sal was the best electrician in Local 3, you just had to ask him. A know-it-all, he wasn’t listening to anyone. He liked to play loose with the safety protocols. He found them time consuming, so he treated them like suggestions. This was frowned upon in an industry that handled enormous amounts of electricity. Sal didn’t care. He was doing things his way.
Sal was considered an “A” mechanic in the trade. As such, he was assigned an apprentice. Billy was a sharp kid. He had always wanted to be an electrician. Excited to be working with an experienced pro like Sal, he was also diligent in his studies in the apprentice school, attended each night after work. What Billy noticed was that Sal liked to take short cuts. After several weeks in the field and the classroom, Billy felt confident enough to ask questions.
“Why do you ignore the safety protocols,” he asked.
“Because they take too long,” Sal said. “That’s just not my way.”
Billy made note of the short cuts, and though he didn’t argue the point, he was careful to stand far away from Sal when he was making them. Sal noticed.
“What’s the matter kid, you scared?”
“No, Sal. Just careful.”
“Careful?” Sal scoffed. “Careful don’t get the job done. That’s not my way.”
It had come to the attention of the foremen and supervisors that Sal was being reckless. They asked Billy about it. Out of loyalty, he wouldn’t give Sal up.
“He does things his way,” was all Billy would allow.
Sal and Billy were assigned as big a job an electrician could ever have. They were tasked with changing the cables and rewiring the mains for the Empire State Building. This involved changing the feed from Con Edison’s transformer into the buildings main circuit box. Billy was astonished when Sal told him they would be working with the power on.
“We have to cut the power. That’s safety rule number one.”
“Nonsense,” Sal said. “I’m wearing rubber soled boots. The floor down here is grounded. We would have to close the building for half a day if we cut the power. Do you know how involved that is?”
“For this job, please just do it the right way,” Billy asked.
“Nah,” he said. “I’m gonna do it my way.”
Billy watched from out in the hall, where it was safe. Sal hadn’t noticed that one of his “grounded” boots had a tack stuck through it. He didn’t feel the moisture seeping into his sock from the water leak in the dark power room. He also couldn’t see the frayed wiring laying in the puddle. When he removed the power cable from the transformer, thirteen thousand, eight hundred volts of electricity coursed through his body and fried him to a cinder.
When the supervisor got to the scene, Billy told him what happened.
“Why didn’t he cut the power,” the supervisor asked.
“That wouldn’t have been Sal’s way,” he said.
A THEME PARK LIFE
If Donnelley’s life were a theme park, he thought, it would be Disappointment Land. He had lost his job. It had been a good one, as a tech-support supervisor for Facebook. He thought it was a job he could retire from—many years in the future. Apart from the excellent salary and benefits, he had what looked to be a retirement bonanza in the form of stock options. The new internet privacy laws stemming from Europe ended all that.
In a month, Facebook’s stock had dropped to a tenth of their original price. Donnelley’s were worth less now than when they were issued to him. What followed hard on the heels of that was a massive downsizing. It turned out the only one’s job that was safe was Mark Zuckerberg’s.
Donnelley was on the hunt for a new one, but the going was hard. He found the prospects slim for a forty-year-old computer tech, in a field full of twenty-somethings who would work for so much less—not having things like a family to feed or a mortgage to pay. He soldiered on. His family was counting on him.
He had to stop at the grocery store to buy tonight’s dinner. Money was short these days, so he had to be frugal. He purchased eggs on sale, day-old bread, butter and a tiny jar of pimentos. He would make his children’s favorite—eggs in a hole.
Approaching the checkout counter, Old Mrs. Potter shoved him out of her way. She was as mean as she was rich; which was very. The wealthiest family in Bedford Falls, the Potter’s seemed to dislike everyone. Poor Donnelley would not be exempted.
“I have a nail appointment,” she said. “I have no time to wait for a slacker like you.”
She loaded her entire cart of groceries onto the check-out belt, leaving Donnelley to stand there holding his few meager items.
After she paid for her groceries, shooting Donnelley a disdainful glare, he placed his items on the belt. Distracted for a moment in thought, he hoped he had enough money to cover the small purchase. So, he was caught by surprise by what happened next.
Balloons and streamers fell from the ceiling. Glittering confetti rained down on him. He was the long spoken of, but never seen “Millionth Customer” of supermarket legend, winning the Holy Grail of free groceries for life. For a moment, he was speechless.
“Sometimes I get lucky,” he said to the local TV anchorwoman there for the occasion.
To himself Donnelley thought, I am so very grateful, as a tear formed in the corner of his eye. He considered that maybe he would have to rename his theme park. Grace and Patience Land had a nice ring to it.
When Mean Old Mrs. Potter was killed in the parking lot walking in front of an Accesso-ride handicapped van, everyone else thought it was Karma Town.
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