Holy __________________________ !
Mackerel, people. It’s ‘Holy mackerel!’ Sheesh.
©2022 Chel Owens
Holy __________________________ !
Mackerel, people. It’s ‘Holy mackerel!’ Sheesh.
©2022 Chel Owens
Continued from Part 3…
Ida’s thoughts circled her head while she walked, buzzing too close for comfort but not near enough to swat away. Looking back at the store, she saw Bob and Sue; both waved and she returned the friendly gesture. Thoughts of Bob joined the swarm. Did he suspect her and should she suspect him? After all, Bob was not the sort to miss a person walking into his store and disappearing.
She sighed. This was all her mother’s fault. Ida could hear the lecture now: “You gotta do good in the world, Ida Ann. Nobody’s worth nothing if he thinks about himself all the time!” Her mother lived it, too. Ida couldn’t recall how many times she’d come home from school to find a note saying Mom was out at so-and-so’s house. Their family hardly enjoyed a meal or a batch of cookies without first sharing it with others.
Yes, her mother set the bug in Ida’s conscience to do good in the world. Yes, there was a need for good in a world with bad people. And, yes, she suspected that Petey might be one of those bad people.
A curling, yellow leaf drifted across her vision, drawing her attention to God’s beautiful autumn around her. She stopped. Maple Street glowed in reds and yellows while the gentle wind brushed leaves from branches to dance downward like soft rain.
It was the leaves that saved her. Crisp crunching footsteps came from behind, as solid but nervous as those she’d heard behind the hidden door at the back of McClintock’s Mercantile. By the time they stuttered to her side, she’d replaced her frozen expression with her classic, open smile. “Hello, Petey.”
Petey stalled and stopped. “Well! Ida Layton.” His lowered eyebrows and sharp eyes guarded a returning smirk. He kept pace with her as they continued on. “I see you went shopping.”
She’d forgotten the swinging bag of milk and cereal at her side. “Oh! Yes. You know how fast kids go through food!” She laughed, stopping quickly at its nervous tenor.
His laugh sounded natural and at ease. “I’m surprised you got out with just the Lucky Charms. Bob about got my ear last time I went in there.”
“Well,” she stopped. They were at her mailbox. “Now that you mention it, he did tell me all about some kind of juicing machine. He sounds …excited.”
“Ha! Excited isn’t the half of it. You’d think he were getting a horse.” Petey turned his gaze to a distant point in the sky across the street.
“Well,” she said again. He didn’t react. “Guess I’d better go get the kids their food.”
He waited till she was halfway up the front walk before answering. “You gotta take care of those kids.”
©2020 Chel Owens
Continued from Part 2…
“No, I didn’t,” Petey’s voice said, near to Ida’s stooped position. A shadow moved across the outlined light, then away. “I said I didn’t!“
She leaned nearer, eyes darting and ears straining. From the dark wall before her, she heard his soft-soled footsteps walking. Stopping. Walking. Stopping. From the large store space behind her, she heard humming lights and the familiar, lecturing tone of an old woman.
“Oh, I know you want-” Petey began. His voice faded as his shoe sounds moved farther away. “Not care,” “man,” “get your money,” and “no” were the only words she could be sure of. Another frown threatened her perfect brow. The voices far behind her, meanwhile, changed to sounds of farewell. Ida started backing away; careful of boxes, mop, and display case.
Just as she reached the greeting card rack and again withdrew a Get Well Soon sample, Bob himself came into view. Relief spent an instant in his eyes, quickly chased by a suspicious scowl. She gave him time to hitch a careful smile in place before setting the card back in its spot. She smiled her own, open greeting to the wary store owner. “Jack said you told him you’d stocked some new stuff, Bob, but I could only find the usual.”
Bob coughed. “Well, I- I didn’t mean stuff in the back– When I talked to him, it was jus’ after a shipment from out o’ state, ya know what I mean, and I was hopin’ it’d be Jack ter come in so I could show ‘im the meat-slicer we got for the deli…” His face cleared. “But, now that you mention it, Nate told me all about this gadget what makes orange juice, ya know what I mean-“
Raising her hand to stop the barrage, she began, “I don’-“
“No, o’course ya don’t since you ain’t never seen one afore, but this’un takes th’oranges an’ squeezes the juice right outta them an’ you can see it right there in front o’ ya-“
“I see. That’s-“
“An’ it’s great ’cause ya don’ hafta get ’em ready ‘cepting ya gotta cut th’orange in half, ya know what I mean, so’s it’s ready for juicing…”
Ida could do nothing but nod and make the occasional sound of interest. He talked as they walked from back to front of store, stopping at the milk section, the cereal section, then standing before the amused cashier.
“Has he been talking your ear off about his new toy?” Sue teased.
Bob turned to Sue, midway through an explanation of electricity and motors. “It’s not a toy, Sue. It’s technology! Ya see, the input from the-“
“You don’t need to tell me, Bob! I heard it fifty times back when Nate sold it to you!” Smiling indulgently, Sue turned to Ida. “I’ll ring you up so you can go home, Hon.’ I won’t let him tell you all about the ways oranges can get squished no more.”
Ida returned the smile. “Oh, that’s all right.” She inclined her head to Bob. “I’m sorry for not understanding what was new. I think the juicer sounds great and that the kids would love it. Can I show it to them?”
With a look rivaling a kid at Christmas, the proprietor rubbed him hands together. “Yeah! Great! Come on by Saturday, after it’s delivered, and you’ll be the first ones to see it run!”
Head full of secret doors, muted conversations, and oranges, she left McClintock Mercantile with her purchases. How, she wondered, Will I ever get into that back room without Bob or Sue -or Petey- catching me? Could orange juice hold the key?
©2020 Chel Owens
Continued from Part 1…
Ida stood, concern threatening to cloud her brow. She looked from floor to fridges to open aisle. Here, at the back of McClintock’s Mercantile, she attempted to gather her wits. At the least, she attempted to appear unaffected while those un-gathered wits felt completely unraveled.
Calm down. Calm. Down. Inhaling through her nose and exhaling with a soft whistle out through her mouth, she talked herself through a tempting panic. She, the great Ida Layton, could handle anything. She could certainly handle a person disappearing; Petey had to have gone somewhere.
She walked coolly forward. She studied a Get Well Soon card, its flowers a yellow and green shadow of what they once were. She turned the display this way and that, but a creaking spin was her only reward.
Returning the card and pursing her lips in an innocent expression of perusal, she stepped along the back wall. Bob had inherited the place from his father, and his father before him, and a cousin before him, and -rumor had it- that cousin’s mother before him. The shelves along the back betrayed the store’s age, sagging at their splintering plaster. Wisely, Bob set lightweight merchandise on these. No matter how casually she scrutinized them, however, Ida saw no evidence that the seed packets, balloons, tissue paper, or ladies’ hosiery had been disturbed. No fingerprints in the dust. No dislodged packages. Nothing.
She came to the furthermost corner. For a place of business so brightly lit and generally clean, the store’s back corner appeared dark and cluttered. When she glanced up, she noticed no light nor security camera. Odd, she thought.
Glancing down the aisles, she heard snatches of Bob and Sue attempting a conversation with old Mrs. Benjamin Wilson. Ida turned back to the task at hand. Her hands shook in excitement. She pushed aside a barrel-shaped display advertising Pepsi-Cola. She stepped over an old janitorial mop and bucket. At the back, she faced a cardboard cutout of some long-lost athlete with hand raised in greeting.
There, beneath the athlete’s arm, shone the dim, straight outline of a doorframe.
©2020 Chel Owens
Times were slow in Saint John City. Events were slow. Sometimes, the people weren’t too quick, either. Yet, Ida knew a sleepy veneer could hide secrets. That’s why she stood against the stucco wall, black hair whipping across piercing gaze, soaking in the everything around her.
“Well, hello, Ida,” tottered old Mrs. Benjamin Wilson. “Waiting for your husband, are you?”
Ida smiled. “Hello, Mrs. Wilson.” She shrugged. “No, I’m just …watching.”
“Oh?” The old woman’s sagging eyes turned down as her mouth did. “Well, Dear, in my day…”
Ida saw movement in her peripheral vision. Petey Sanders shrugged out of his car and headed toward where Ida had been loitering most of that morning. She watched while Mrs. Wilson’s tongue kept wagging. She needed to keep him in sight.
“Of course, Mrs. Wilson.” Ida hoped her answer fitted the one-sided conversation. “Now, I’m so sorry to leave you but I need to get my shopping done.”
“Oh, all right, Dear-“
Ida heard no more, nor no less than she had. Like Petey, she entered the swish-cooled doors of the local, only grocery store. Like Petey, she walked past Bob McClintock and Sue Smith -the local, only employees. Like Petey, she walked past the gum and magazine racks, past the frozen food bins, and past the small display of bandages and greeting cards.
Here, the resemblance stopped. Fluorescent lines reflected from an empty floor, a vacant refrigerated section, and a vacated aisle. Petey was nowhere to be seen.
Keep reading to Part 2.
©2020 Chel Owens
And remember, shoppers, wearing masks helps everyone.
Kate hardly heard the announcement as she squatted on the fissured floor. It had played five minutes before; five minutes before that; five minutes before that; five years before that.
Don’t forget to stock up on hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies.
Her breath fogged her vision; cleared; fogged. She remembered when panic first hit; when people rushed to stores for cleaners, supplies, and even frozen pizza. Crazy to think, half a decade later, of running out of sanitizer. Everyone brewed his own, fumigating what remained of the landscape.
Are you immunocompromised?
“Then you’re dead,” Kate mumbled into her mask.
Try our grocery pickup: FoodCorp prides itself on offering grocery pickup, right outside the store!
“But not delivery,” Kate sighed. Too bad, really, about delivery. It’d been nice while it lasted. Groceries, radios, cars, the mail -all of it, brought right to where you lived by someone who didn’t take it for himself. Or, someone who didn’t get killed by raiders.
Associates: it’s the top of the hour.
Kate stiffened. More time had passed than she’d realized. Throwing caution to the winds, she lay on the grubby floor and scrabbled underneath the shelving.
Please ensure your areas are neat and tidy for our customers.
Her glasses scraped and scratched. Straining, she felt an edge of curved, sealed metal. It spun at her fingertips but moved closer. She grunted; pushed; spun; strained; shoved. A dust-grimed can of chili rolled in front of her floor-laid face.
Thank you for shopping at FoodCorp!
“Thank you,” she muttered, coughing into the fabric across her mouth. She clutched the can to herself, raised herself, glanced around herself. Shoppers’ shadows walked across her memory as she retraced her steps down the empty, broken aisle. Had it really only been a few years since sunlight? Shining linoleum? Aproned workers sweeping? Smiling customers that moved their shopping carts aside to let yours through?
Please, come again.
Kate shoved a molding display shelf against the wall and climbed. After peeking beneath it, she lifted the ragged Welcome to FoodCorp! banner and crawled though a hole in the brickwork.
©2020 Chel Owens
“And I-uh-I will all-ways love yooo-ooo-oou!” I belt out, then pause to strike a pose as the thrilling, albeit low-quality notes continue bravely on through the overhead speaker.
“Sharon, report to customer service. Customer waiting,” rudely cuts off the rest of Whitney’s (muted) boisterous tones.
I frown, and try to remember what I was doing on this aisle, before grabbing a random shelf item to sing into. I appear to be in the Clearance section. I am still holding my makeshift microphone.
“What the -” I think to myself, looking more carefully at my hand. It seems to be a tube full of glittering solution. I thought it was Princess-themed body lotion for girls or something, but now I see impossible phenomena: swirls of color float sporadically inside the bottle like miniature Northern Lights.
“Wow,” I breathe, a bit mesmerized.
“Dab. Da babba!” My infant son demands, smacking at the bottle awkwardly with his wet hands and breaking my concentration.
I smile at him. “Sorry, bub. We’re going now.” I notice I’ve picked up the crazy parent tendency to talk to my child, even though I am certain he doesn’t know what I say. I shrug. Maybe, I hope he does. Maybe I’m really just telling myself.
Absently, I allow him to pull the sparkle tube into his hands and I push the cart down the aisle.
“Squeee!” He excitedly screams, shaking his new toy. He tries to eat it.
“Now, Sam,” I begin, about to lecture a ten-month-old on the dangers of foreign paint.
“May I help you?” A man asks. I look up and see an oddly-dressed store associate. He looks as though he took his blue uniform vest home and embellished it with tassels at the corners. In fact, dangling fringe seem to be his thing; since there are also tassels on his slippers and his hat, and he sports a goatee.
“Whatever,” I think to myself. “They are scrambling for employees right now.” I smile at the strange man. Aloud, I answer, “No, thanks.”
He bows. “I was speaking to the Young Master,” Odd Associate clarifies, gesturing toward my son. “I didn’t understand his request.”
“Huh?” I ask, my face showing confusion. Perhaps this associate wasn’t all there. I mentally plan an exit strategy.
“Ah,” Odd One says. “I forgot to introduce myself.” He straightens up, smooths down his clothes and announces, “I am Amijd, Genie of Akmand. I am here,” he bows again, “to grant your wishes.”
If my face showed some concern with the confusion at first, I am certain concern -or, more accurately, alarm- is all I express now. I begin backing towards the other end of the aisle.
Amijd looks surprised. “I did try,” he hastily adds. He reaches behind him and pulls out a squeegee. I stop, and stare at it, and him.
He sees the look, and explains, “Young Master asked for a ‘squeee!’” Amijd looks apologetic. Sam gets excited. “Squeeee!” Sam squeals again, dropping the effervescent container and reaching slobbery hands out for the window tool instead.
Amijd steps forward a bit in reflex of the falling bottle, but it lands harmlessly next to Sam in the cart basket. Amijd appears relieved, and he instead places the squeegee into Sam’s hands.
I look at the overly-friendly Middle-Eastern man, standing expectantly near us and smiling. I look at Sam, trying to eat the corners of a black plastic sponge. I look at the swirling colors of the dropped toy.
Still eyeing “The Genie of Akmand,” I carefully pick up the bottle and wipe it off on my jeans. Amijd, if possible, looks even happier. He bows to me. “What wish do you command?” He asks.
“Well,” I begin. If there is any truth to this wish thing, it seems worth it to try. I look around the store, at the merchandise in my cart, and at Sam. “Well, how about, ‘I wish to have all of my purchases paid for today?’”
Amijd’s face clouds in concentration, then he waves his hands and says, “Done!” He looks hopeful. I look down at my basket. Nothing seems to have changed.
“Um. Okay,” I say. I decide to go to the checkouts, in case something looks different there. I turn and walk that way. The genie follows, his slippers softly shuffling across the waxed titles.
We reach the checkout, not without some odd looks from other shoppers. The checker seems unimpressed, though I’m sure she’s seen some odd getups working here. She scans my items in a bored manner. “That’ll be $65.83,” she says, looking out the window.
I glare at Amijd, who changes his pleased look for concern. I pull out my credit card and slide it through the machine. “I even had to pay for that squeegee,” I tell myself.
“Have a good day,” Checker automatically intones, as she hands me my receipt and starts scanning the next person’s items.
I gather up my bags and start walking to the doors. Amijd skips right along.
Once outside, I stop. I look at him. “What the heck?” I ask. “I still had to pay for everything -even Sam’s ‘wish’ you gave him!”
The genie is surprised. “I granted that everything was paid for,” he defends. I think about that. He is technically right. I groan. I didn’t want this kind of wishing, the kind where you might get dropped in an ocean if you don’t specify where you want to be when given a long-lost treasure.
“That’s not what I expected,” I tell the smiling tassel man. He looks thoughtful for a bit, then says, “Ah. I will try harder. But,” he adds, “I may only grant you two more wishes.”
“Of course,” I think. I look down at Sam, who has successfully gnawed a strip of the sponge away from the plastic. I try to think. “Any wishing for more wishes?” I ask. Amijd shakes his head, his tassel swaying across its hat and his head.
I think some more, hard. “Okay.” I pause. “I wish for our car to be paid off, but not by me, my husband, or any relative.” I look at Amijd as he does his frowning and hand-waving. He looks up. “Done!” He announces.
Just then, a crossover SUV peals into the parking lot. I catch a glimpse of a blonde woman applying lipstick, with a cell phone clenched between her cheek and shoulder. Half of a second later, she misjudges her turn into the stall and smashes into the side of my car.
I stand there, aghast. “Amijd!” I yell. “Damid!” Sam repeats, giggling. I watch the woman get out, still holding her phone. She looks at what remains of my car, from different angles. She seems to be trying to find a position at which the damaged vehicle does not look completely smashed in.
I might suspect coincidence, if not for the affably pleased oddity standing near me, and the fact that Blondie seems to have no damage to her car. I check the parking lot for any other random maniacs, and cross with my cart to the accident scene.
The blonde woman is still walking about, her black heels clicking loudly on the asphalt. “Hey!” I say. She stops, and looks up at me. I can see that she didn’t finish her makeup job.
“Oh my! I am so sorry!” She says, her apology fighting to show through the botox in her face. “I don’t know what happened, dear!” She finally detaches the cell phone, and flips her hair over a shoulder.
“You call the police, honey,” she points at me. Somehow she has already extricated her insurance information. “They always take a while to get here, so I’ll just pop in the store and be right back for my statement,” she says as she hands me her card.
“Thanks, dear. Sorry again.” I watch her blonde hair and black shawl walk away to the echoing sounds of her shoes. The store doors close behind her.
“One more wish, Master,” I hear near my elbow. I look from the toll-free phone number of Blondie’s car insurance company to the expectant, goateed man. I’m considering calling the police for two reasons now.
I have the feeling Amijd won’t leave till I’ve spoken my last wish, though -as tempting as arrest sounds right now. So, I try to think of a harmless wish as I dial the number to report accidents.
I’m put on hold.
“Okay, Amijd,” I say, holding my own phone with my shoulder. “I wish to lose twenty pounds.” He mumbles and waves his hands as the operator finally comes on the line.
“Hello. Yes, I’d like to report an accident,” I say. I glance around, happily noticing that Amijd is gone. I look back at my car and say, “Yes, we’d like an officer. It’s at- wait! Where’s Sam?!”
©2020 Chelsea Owens
In June of 2017, I posted the first of Wil’s stories. Unbeknownst to my small fan base at the time, and those who’ve joined since, I first wrote about Wil on Twofacebook and in the winter.
Wilhelmina and her story came to me three years ago. I knew what her family history was and what would happen to the mother she knew. Wil’s character is based on one of my sons, with (unavoidably) some of my own personality as well.
The pavement sparkled moon white under store lights as the frigid evening air heightened reflections and sounds.
Her warm breath danced crystals in front of her face, and Wil decided that the ethereal effect was acceptable for admittance of someone of her social status. Wrapping her fraying scarf ’round with a flourish, she marched regally toward the busy front doors.
Patrons parted and bowed, and the very doors opened of their own accord to admit this grand sight. She was right to have condescended this evening and mixed among the rabble thus.
Wil deigned herself use of a wheeled carriage for transporting common goods, then turned and continued her stately tread down shining paths of fluorescent shelving. She heard the fanfare and stepped in time to their herald.
“I must retrieve a sacred flask of ale for my poor father,” Wil thought, referring to a few scrawled words on a scrap of paper. She held it importantly between her two mittened hands like a parchment roll. Milk, bread, and can of soup were also listed. Wil cocked her head and looked at the hanging signs above her.
“Excuse me, sir,” she enquired of a clerk stocking a nearby shelf. “Where might one find ale?”
The clerk, a young male of questionable heritage and understanding, seemed confused by Wil’s request.
“Your liquor, sir. Spirits; ale.” She sighed. “Beer!” She said impatiently.
“Oh.” Clerk drew the word out, almost sounding like she were the one not understanding the situation. “Aisle 10, in the fridges.” He turned back to lining up blue macaroni boxes.
Wil covered for her lapse in patience with a small sniff and she turned away haughtily. “Some commoners!” She thought to herself. “Give someone a job and he thinks above his station.”
Her careful promenade soon took her to Aisle 10, the Hallway of Doors. She watched herself stretch and break in each door as her reflection wheeled past. Behind each: a story, a mystery, a possibility.
Here, she found her father’s ale. There, she found her mother’s dairy flagon. The mirrors shut with slap-slaps as she hefted the cool containers into the basket.
Wil raised her chin slightly as she turned her carriage and headed toward another hallway in this mystical kingdom: Aisle 5, Preserved Provisions.
The wheels circled lopsidedly over some foreign object adhered to the front left wheel, and her boots spoke a soft squeak at each step. Still, Wil walked majestically on, her old scarf swaying slightly with each step toward her noble conquest.
©2016-2019 Chelsea Owens
“Here,” breathed Wil, “must I tread again.” She surveyed the fluorescent land; her land. Little had changed during her absence. Commoners scurried around her, too awed by her presence to engage her attentions. There, rested the wheeled carriages. There, the rows of labeled shelving.
Without map or list to guide her, Wil frowned. ‘Twas a regal frown, naturally. One mustn’t sacrifice one’s face to strain, after all, no matter how confused one felt.
“Ah!” she exclaimed, remembering. A harried woman jumped in passing. The action passed beneath her ruler’s esteemed notice. Wil strode forward, accompanied by the soft squeak-thump of boot and flup-flop of coat and scarf. Employing a carriage, she pointed it and her in the direction of a ceiling-hung label: Soups/Instant Rice/Box Meals/Cake Mixes.
What an odd assortment to collect within a single location, she mused. She drew closer to the mirror-floored aisle in question. Odd or no, she felt certain this was the first she must visit. She began sounding out the names of the items before her.
“Rice-a-Ro-Ney?” “Hamburg’s Helper?” “Raw-men?”
A youth in red half-uniform paused mid-stack to stare. Wil blushed, knowing he ought not to forget his manners yet simultaneously practicing her own in not reprimanding the impudent boy. Instead, she lifted her chin and continued her perusal within her private thoughts.
Insta-Taters? Scallop-ed Noodles? Aha! Tu-na Helper! Wil snatched the box in haste, incurring another surprised reaction from her lone teenager audience. Turning her back upon the knave, she secured a second box in similar fashion. There! Now all she required was the necessary protein complement: tuna.
“But where am I to find a fishmonger within this enclosed market?” she mused.
“Did you say fish?” The half-redded worker spoke. Wil deigned to turn since his voice sounded near. It was; he was. Her slight movement brought her eye level with an unshaven chin and she jumped and dropped the boxes in her hands. Embarrassed, she scrambled to retrieve her lost treasures.
Once within her grasp, she deposited them safely in the wheeled carriage. She faced the disrespectful youth again. Any commoner could read the disdain writ upon her face -any, it seemed, except the boy before her. Not only had he continued to stand whilst she chased the boxes, he hadn’t offered a word nor eye-blink since his only sentence. Wil could therefore not be certain of his intellectual abilities nor the chance of his aid. She decided, however, that little risk lay in answering his simple query.
“Yes; I said ‘fish.'” She threw a tattered length of scarf over a shoulder. “I require the tu-na this ‘Tuna Helper’ demands.”
“Right,” he said. She watched his Adam’s apple fall and rise below his impassive face. “‘Suh next aisle over.” He went back to stocking the shelf.
Wil gaped after his sudden manner. Recovering, she answered, “Thank you, good sir.” She grasped the steerage of the wheeled carriage and headed where he had indicated. She felt the less correct term of “sir” a safer formality in address; though, how anyone could call such an unkempt and rude person anything besides “peasant” was beyond her.
I’m a bit late in posting this, but I wanted to write my final love poem of the (last) week to my favorite holiday in February, Half-Price Chocolate Day (February 15).
I also write this in response to Carrot Ranch‘s weekly writing prompt.*
Excuse me, ma’am, I know it’s bright,
My coming here at break of light;
Yet, may I guess you’re here to mark
Down hearts and cards within this cart?
‘Yes,’ you say? You’ve made my day!
-But, wait! What of the wall this way?
The bags and boxes here, you know,
Are why I woke up, braved the snow.
They’re why, my diet I’ll ignore;
Why, really, I came to this store;
And why, no joke, my world still turns
For what my beating heart still yearns:
My meaning, purpose, lifetime vice
Is V Day choc’late, sold half price.
*Carrot Ranch’s official rules:
February 14, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about valentines. It can be Valentine’s Day, the exchange, love for another, romance, or friendship. Have a heart and go where the prompt leads!
Respond by February 19, 2019. Use the comment section [on the site] to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.