As blah as Mondays might be at times, one of the highlights for me are the tweets that come from @WritersDigest. Each Monday, they issue a writing challenge: Weave these four random things into a story. It’s a great exercise, and if I have time, I’ll do it (though not every week). The goal, as I understand it, is to work on structure and examining the big-picture of a story. Generally, the ones I write are very vague portraits or snapshots of an event or a person – I only spend 30 minutes or an hour on them tops – and I don’t really edit them. They rarely really “end” … I like to leave them subject to interpretation.
This week’s I thought was particularly intriguing, and though it’s no longer Monday, I figured what the hell. Here it goes:
A honeymoon, a new pet, a handful of money and a hospital
Palm trees blew lazily above Cassie’s head as she sat up in a frightened panic. The sound of the waves in front of her were making her head pound. A crab, startled by her movement, scurried down the beach toward the water. A poodle tied to the palm tree began to bark noisily at it. Cassie’s hands flew up to her ears.
It was then she noticed her shirt sleeves, tattered and torn, stained with seaweed and sand. Her nails, once perfectly manicured and buffed, looked more like buzz saws than fingertips.
The growling dog beside her snapped her from her trance as it wrestled with a pudgy-looking burlap bag. Gingerly, she leaned toward the dog, speaking in hushed tones.
“Hey, good boy … what do you have there? What’s in that bag, huh?”
As she stood, the little dog backed away, barking up a storm, more afraid of her at this point than she was of it.
She picked up the bag and stepped back two paces, dumping it to the ground. Bricks of green bills fell into the sand, one after the other after the other. She counted: 50 of them. $1,000 American dollars each.
She examined the piles of money closely, fanning herself with them, smelling them. They’re real, she thought.
She smiled. Her headache was gone.
Spotting a path through the dune, she gathered the money and untied the yappy dog. Her legs were numb – from what she didn’t know – but she slogged, determined, through the sand as the dog nipped at her heels.
On the other side was a highway, empty but for a large shack about two blocks down. She turned toward it, holding the dog’s leash in one fist, the bag of money in the other.
Sounds of dogs barking filled the air around the ramshackle building, its flat roof sagging from age. The dog on Cassie’s arm began to respond, first quietly, then with more enthusiasm, as if to respond to its “people.”
An old woman stood outside the front door, leaning on a cane, smiling at her barking brood.
“It’s unconditional, you know,” she said to Cassie. “Aren’t they wonderful creatures?”
Cassie smiled nervously, her eyes darting from side to side taking in the scene. An old van with a siren on top sat in the driveway next to what looked like a doctor’s bag and several stacks of bandages.
“Could you … could you take one more?” she asked the woman, holding the leash out toward her.
The woman’s face lifted. She looked 10 years younger, Cassie thought.
“You … you mean, you can’t keep him?”
“No, no … I can’t. I’d like it if he could stay here,” Cassie said.
The woman reached out and accepted the leash from Cassie, then gently sat down on the front step. “You’re such a good boy, aren’t you? Yes you are …”
The dog gently, knowingly, set its front paws on the woman’s leg and let her pet him, silent and calm.
“Thank you,” the woman said to Cassie. “Do you know where he comes from?”
“No, no I don’t,” Cassie said, nervously. “Just found him alone on the beach …”
“It looks like he may be a little hungry, and that cut on his leg will have to be fixed,” the woman said. “Nonetheless, he’ll have a good home here. We’ve been in operation for nearly 40 years. Every dog gets the treatment it needs – my husband gave up his practice in the city and sees to it personally.”
Cassie watched as the woman cared for the dog, wrapping its leg and keeping it calm all the while. The bag of money, still tight in her hand, was hurting her arm. Slowly, she opened the bag and pulled out two bricks of bills.
“Here you go,” Cassie said, handing the money to the woman. “This should help.”
The woman took the money, her eyes flickering in surprise.
“Child, where did this come from? Who are you anyway?”
Cassie smiled slowly, confusion filling her head. “Can’t really say … found money, I guess. … I need to go now.”
“Go where? Where you heading? The least we can do is give you a ride …”
Cassie held up her hand. “No … no, that won’t be necessary … I’ll just …”
The sound of the door opening behind the woman startled Cassie, but the sight did not. A handsome man, mid to late 30s, stepped out onto the step holding a bottle of beer against the back of his neck. Soot and grime covered his face and his shirt was torn near the right shoulder. He looked toward Cassie.
“Hello,” the man said. “Mom, who’s this?”
“Well, I don’t quite know … but she brought us this precious little baby, yes she did …”
He looked toward Cassie, smiling, took a swig of the beer as he walked down the steps into the yard. “Well, that was nice …” He extended his hand as he approached her. “I’m Jack.”
Cassie smiled as she shook his hand. “I … I’d tell you my name .. but I don’t … ”
Jack’s confusion was written on his face. “You don’t … what?” He grinned. “You in the witness protection program or something?”
Cassie put her hands up to her ears and shook her head. “I … I just don’t know who I am …”
Jack’s face grew serious as he put his hand on Cassie’s arm. “Are you hurt?”
“I … I just don’t … I don’t know.”
“Come here.” Jack took Cassie’s arm gently and pulled her toward the garage. He motioned for her to sit on the workbench, then looked into each of her eyes. He took her arms in his hands , the tattered blouse still flowing, and ran his fingers across her jagged fingernails.
“You aren’t cut up or anything … did you call the police?”
Cassie shook her head. “Yours was the first place I saw, so I came here. With the dog.”
Jack nodded. “Okay, we’re gonna go inside and call the police … what’s in the bag?”
Cassie pulled the bag against her chest and she stared straight ahead.
“Is it money?”
Cassie looked Jack in the eye and inhaled deeply. “Yes.”
Jack nodded. “Okay … come on in.”
He led her into the house. Plastic covered the furniture. The kitchen table was avacado green, its chairs split from years of use. He pulled out a chair and motioned for Cassie to sit, then picked up the phone from the wall and dialed.
“Hi … yes, I’d like to report .. uh … I don’t know what to call it, but a woman – blonde, about six feet tall, blue eyes – is in our home and she doesn’t know who she is. … Yes … yes … she has a bag of money but she doesn’t know where it came from … yes … yes …”
Jack put his hand over the receiver and looked at Cassie.
“Is your name Cassie?”
Her breath caught in her throat. Cassie. That was her name. Cassie. She nodded quickly, nervously, toward Jack. Her mouth went dry.
Jack put the receiver to his mouth again. “She says yes … oh my God … okay … um, well, we’ll be here … thank you …”
He hung up the phone slowly, then turned toward Cassie.
“The cops are coming here to talk to you … they’re bringing your new husband.”
He grinned as he opened the refrigerator door. He pulled out two beers, popped the tops and placed one in front of Cassie, then took a deep drink.
“Must’ve been quite a party.”
* * *