Hey Hey Ho Ho

(NYCMidnight Flash Fiction Short Story contest, thriller, pocket knife, picket line)

 

“Hey Hey Ho Ho, Malcor greed has got to go!” Kendra mouths the chant so nobody notices her lack of shouting. Her feet are hot in her boots and ache from walking endless circles. The picket sign makes her bra straps dig in. She rubs one weary shoulder; it isn’t even lunchtime. Despite the fatigue, Kendra appreciates the solidarity on the picket line;  it’s new and rousing, if overly loud.

Cars line up waiting to enter the plant. They open the barricade every half hour; the drivers honk and shake angry fists while waiting. Marching bodies around her spit out the word “scabs” like a curse but it’s actually only been management and press. Still, Kendra nods in vague agreement.

A lot needs to change at Malcorp. Kendra doesn’t fully understand what, but she could use a pay raise and for her asthma inhalers to be covered.

The asthma began about nine months after she started at Malcorp – occupational asthma the diagnosis. She coughs just thinking about it and pulls her puffer from her pocket, giving it the required vigorous shake. Nearby, Brad pulls out his own inhaler and raises it toward her. “Cheers,” he says, smiling. She returns the gesture, smiles shyly and looks away. She turns slightly to take her puff. Brad has smiled at her before.

Flushed from this exchange, Kendra slips into the rest area for a break. She grabs a donated muffin and cuts it with her pocket knife, saving half for later.

Lisa and Kelly, two women from her line, are also taking breaks. They exchange companionable nods. There’s no use trying to speak – the chants of ‘Hey hey, ho ho. Malcorp greed has got to go” would just drown them out. She doesn’t talk much in the cafeteria at work either, preferring to quietly read. She likes these co-workers though. She does actually like her job – or at least not hate it.

Anxious to rest her feet, she takes a seat and idly checks Twitter, scrolling the protest hashtags. Reports of increased asthma have bolstered support from the public. Kendra coughs, and checks email. Messages from the Union, messages from Malcorp – she swipes away each tedious email when one subject catches here eye – “Let’s break them today”

It’s to Kendra.Macpherson – she’s Kendra.McPherson. This happened once before – figuring it was someone in management, Kendra had been too nervous to report it and had discreetly deleted that message. This one though – maybe this one she should read.

“Let’s break them today.”

“Actors set. N and P to break down barricade. Security to jam cell reception. Actors instructed to cross picket. Security has pepper spray ready.”

Pepper spray? Are they expecting a riot? Kendra is filled with dread as she realizes they’re inciting a riot, just to shut it down. Her lungs can’t stand up to pepper spray. Brad can’t survive breathing in pepper spray – nor can an alleged 38% of her co-workers.

The crowd is now rallying by the platform “Hey Hey Ho Ho, Malcor greed has got to go!” How can she warn them? Should she forward the misdirected email to the union leader? Should she tweet a warning, #important #danger? She opens Twitter but there’s no service. She notices Brad look at his phone and shake it; Lisa holds hers up. There’s no reception. They’ve jammed the phones. It’s starting.

She rereads the message to see what’s next. The barricade breaking down. Actors posing as scabs. Riot. Pepper spray.

Kendra wants to shout but everyone is shouting and she was never very good at shouting. She eyes the platform with the microphone and steels herself to wade through the crowd.

With a terrifying crash a car smashes through the barricade, a piece of which slams into a worker. He falls within the frightened mass. Another car blasts through while Kendra fights against the surge of angered mob. She reaches the stage just as the “scabs” appear and she’s still the only one who knows they’re just actors. The platform is only three feet high but it might as well be fifty. Kendra shuts her eyes for a moment, fighting off hysteria, then climbs onto the stage. She waves her phone yelling “You need to read this! It’s important!” but no one hears. They brush her away, knocking the phone out of her hand.

The picketters and fake scabs shove each other and yell. Kendra sees the factory bay door open and can almost feel peppery death breathing down on her. In desperation she pulls out her pocket knife and screams. The rally leaders stop hollering to stare at her breathlessly wielding her little knife. Gravely she holds the knife to her neck and says “Give me that microphone.”

Attention to her action, like a silent ripple travelling through the crowd, washes over picketers and actors alike. A wave of faces turn toward her, riveted on the spectacle of their shy coworker holding a microphone in one hand and a knife to her own neck with the other.

Her vision blurring, her heart racing, her hands shaking – she breathes deeply and speaks into the microphone. “These are actors, not scabs! The only enemy is Malcorp Security! They’re coming right now, with pepper spray!” The listening crowd emits a collective gasp. “That’s right. They gave us asthma and now they’ll use it against us! There can be no riot!”

The rapt attention of the crowd might have bolstered another speaker but for Kendra it was too much. Stepping back, she finishes with a shaky “So just, yeah, stop…” and gently puts the microphone down.

Brad holds out his hand to assist Kendra’s descent from the platform. She makes herself look him right in the eyes and says, “Thank you, Brad.” Amazed by her newfound brazenness, she stumbles to the overturned barrier, takes a seat and eats the second half of her muffin.

HomeStar

Around this time last year I was at loose ends and moody and it was raining so I went for a walk in the dark and told myself a story into my phone as I walked and this is what came from it (with edits for punctuation and “what the heck did I even mean by that”).
note: tagged thriller but also #metoo because it hearkens to so many past stories of existing as a woman in this society, to more than one occasion where some man has said “no one would be able to hear you scream.” Living as a young woman in the nineties WAS a “thriller”.

HomeStar

My plans for the evening were botched; I was supposed to go to a haunted house with some friends but it’s an outdoor attraction and the relentless rain forced it to close for the night. My friends all made off to other hastily made plans – plans that didn’t involve me.
I decided to go for a walk in the rain-like-mist and tell myself a ghost story – that’s almost like a haunted house. I walked around a bit, trying to dive into my mood but didn’t really think of anything. I recalled something I was taught in a script writing workshop a few months back: spend some time near people going about their lives and listen to them speaking. Take a line from their overheard dialogue and let it launch your script. There was no one out on the cold, dark street of course so I went to my favourite “haunt” and sat at the bar. I ordered myself a soda water. The bartender looked at me askance – I’d never done that before. But if I was going to do some writing I’d best a clear head. Anyway, a woman shouldn’t be drinking out at night alone, should she? Too scary.
They didn’t even charge me
Next to me was a couple, at least I thought they were a couple. Youngish, mid to late 20s? They were one what might have been their second or third, fourth pint? Their conversation flowed – seemed like I might get some good dialogue from them. So I listened, while trying to appear not to listen. Don’t look at me like that – you’ve all done it. Haven’t you?
She was talking about a role she had at a theatre company – maybe a community theatre company, or maybe one of those small for-profit companies that never seem to profit. She’d been given a small role but then due to some occurrence or calamity she landed a larger role and was excited about it. He seemed perhaps to be an actor as well though it was clear he wasn’t involved in the same production. He was happy to listen to  her stories. She was a lovely girl. Maybe he was just happy to be there with her. They chatted and chittered and I mentally took notes – I couldn’t very well sit there with a notebook and pen and record it like a journalist if for no other reason than I didn’t have those things with me!
They were interesting and I had a chance to dry out a bit. They had one more pint and then he settled their tab and they headed for the door.
I don’t know. Maybe it was the soda water. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I followed them. I could hear everything they were saying. They’d had enough to drink that they were speaking loudly and didn’t notice me sliding along behind them like a most observant shadow.
She was going on about how she’d never been to that place before but she’d been to loads of other local places and was saying which she liked best, who had the best specials and service; he was saying which once had the best craft beer selections. The craftiest beers! They laughed.
She said she had to get home and he said, “No, not yet. I know it’s raining but isn’t it also somehow quite pleasant?”  She agreed it somehow was and on they walked.
“But do you see that sign there, the star sign glowing in the sky there?” she asked.
“For the  Home Star insurance company?”
“Yeah, that,” she confirmed. “That’s like, my guiding star. I live really near there. So if I’m out at night and walking around, I always make sure I can see it. It’s my personal north star.” She smiled and stumbled a little. She might have drunk more quickly than her body could handle and was getting increasingly drunk as they ventured on. The beer didn’t seem to have the same effect on him
“When I’m out, even if I’ve had a bunch to drink, I always know how to get home because I just look for my guiding star up in the sky!”
I swear I heard him smile. “That makes sense. Their slogan is ‘Insuring everything under the stars’ – did you know that? It’s clever.”
“Clever,” she giggled.
They walked on, turning occasionally, like a spiral almost. She told him of a night she’d been to a party on the other side of Main St, at a house on a street past the graveyard. One can see the graveyard from Main Street; beyond it is a residential section. She slurred, “I almost never would go in the graveyard at night but I’d been at this party and it was late and it was almost day really. But still dark. Dark enough and I was walking home and I could still see the star and I walked toward it. Sometimes I kind of went back and forth because of the graves, you know, but I kept going toward the star. I walked right through the graveyard. It was fine. It’s quiet there at night, you know. There’s no one there.”
They walked on and on and I too walked on and on. We passed some happy people in German attire with feathers in their hats. Octoberfest in Kitchener – it’s a thing that happens. They’d been festing for certain: high fives were passed between the couple and the festers, giddiness all around. Being drunk on beer is a land whose language is understood only by those who inhabit it. There is no common language of soda water.
I didn’t watch where we were going; I was so intent on following and listening and thinking of the story I’d write. A story on Octoberfest? On beer drinking? My reverie was broken when the woman exclaimed, “Hey where’s my star?”
I stopped and looked. It wasn’t there, but it should have been. We hadn’t traveled that far and I would have noticed if we’d entered strange territory.
I know the area.
He said, “I think it went out. Maybe the bulb is out or maybe the power is.”
She stumbled again.
Her eyes met mine for the first time. I shrugged as if to say I didn’t know what happened to it either.
They walked on.
He purred, “I know where we are, you don’t have to worry about it. I’ll get you back to the star.”
It was misty. Foggy.
Suddenly we were at the gates of the cemetery. I didn’t know how that had happened and obviously neither did she. Startled, she protested, “We didn’t cross Main St! How can we be here?”
“It’s really misty out. You’ve had a lot to drink. You don’t remember crossing Main St?” he asked.
She was lost now. Without the star, she didn’t know how to get home. She was going to have to trust him.
But all I’d had was soda water and I didn’t remember crossing Main St either.
By now I was too intrigued. I should have turned back. I have no real excuse: I guess a writer just loves a good story. I followed them into the graveyard.
He was daring her, teasing her. Saying, “Is it really so silent in the graveyard? Let’s find out!”
You know, it’s a nice graveyard. I’ve walked my friend’s dog there in the daytime. But it’s incredibly creepy at night. In the mist it was more quiet than quiet, like the mist was holding all the sound in – even the sound of raindrops. I couldn’t even hear them.
He turned around and smiled at me when I thought that. I gasped and my eyes widened with alarm, but he turned away again. Maybe he didn’t really see me. Maybe he was just smiling in general.
It rained harder and I was cold and wet and it was time to go home, to stop this silly game we were playing. That they were playing and I was watching.
He told her, “I know where we can escape the rain,” and took her hand and jogged into the mist. So I jogged into the mist after them.
They came to a stop at a mausoleum. I hadn’t realized there were mausoleums in this graveyard. I thought those were reserved for rich Toronto graveyards or English nobles.
“Why is it open?” she asked. “Don’t they keep these things locked? Against grave robbers? Or, raccoons?”
“This is the burial site of a founding father of Kitchener. You know that, don’t you? Aren’t you from here? This is his grave and the tradition is on the second Saturday of Oktoberfest they open up his mausoleum and they pour beer on his coffin. It’s an homage celebration. A way to say thank you. I’ve never been, myself. I don’t know anyone who has, it’s for some secret society of Kitchener beer drinkers I guess!” he was laughing as if this wasn’t strange at all.
But it was pouring by now so they went inside.
I stayed outside. My teeth were chattering but not even my insatiable curiosity could have got me to go into that mausoleum at night.
She tried to appear brave, giggling, “We should have brought some beer.”
“Oh, don’t be silly doll,” he answered. I could see the slow smile of success slide across his face and hit his eyes with a glint. “The dead don’t really drink beer.”
He pulled the door of the crypt slowly shut so the silence wouldn’t be disturbed by the screaming.