Prompt: Take a road map, close your eyes, and point to it at random. Have a character drive or walk through the nearest town and stop in at a bank, shop or restaurant. Study the surrounding area on the map if you like. Invent the details. Or: Write about a place you can’t return to.
“A Hot Summer’s Day” – A Short Story
by Luke A. Bunker
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I had woken up this morning in a cheap, dank hotel room whose owner apparently hadn’t seen fit to outfit with a full set of blinds. Unable to sleep much past 6:04 (the red numbers threw a cantankerous glare on the opposing wall and, subsequently, on my day), I decided it was time to hop back onto Interstate 10 from the town I was staying in near San Antonio and seek refuge in another place, determined to drive as long as my gas tank would take me.
About 6 hours of being baked by an unforgiving sun later, I pulled off the freeway into a small town called Crowley, dust flying at my heels and heat waves emanating off the concrete ahead of me. In the heart of Southern Louisiana, Wikipedia told me, Crowley was known for two things – rice and crawfish farming. Oh, boy…
I stopped at Sal’s Service Station (the neon sign was still emitting light, even at this time of the afternoon, its three S’s glowing red on a yellow background) and filled my Yukon with unleaded gas. Since they didn’t take credit cards at the pump (and, really, why would they?), I walked inside and spoke with Sal himself, who said, “It’s a hot one today.” I responded in the affirmative, grabbed a Diet Coke, and was soon on my way to finding sustenance.
Rosa’s Eatery was calling my name. It was around 1:00 by this time, their parking lot was full, and older gentlemen could be seen rubbing their bellies and emitting eponymous laughs as they clapped their hands to their friends’ backs before heading elsewhere for the afternoon. I rolled into a diagonal space directly in front of the establishment, not even bothering to lock-beep-lock-beep my car, and opened the creaky wooden door to the aromas of fried chicken, collared greens, mashed potatoes and well, pretty much the stereotypical smell of all things fried. “Breakfast All Day” adorned yet another neon sign, this time indoors, flashing intermittently and promising 100% Fullness Guaranteed.
A 20-something girl who went by the name of Tammy Sue was hostess that afternoon, and she, like Sal, commented on the heat and seated me at a Formica booth in the corner, across from two grey-haired women who were no doubt gossiping about the men who had just left. I placed an order for coffee (cappuccinos and other perks were nowhere listed on the menu) and activated my cell phone’s power button to check in on the day’s events back home. To my utter disbelief, I saw nothing but five empty bars and a nice big “R” next to the digital clock; this was at the very least the seventh time on this journey to “self-discovery” that I was not connected to the non-peripheral world. Which, to be honest, was fine with me.
As I put my phone away, a woman of a certain age, flaming curly red hair tied up into a bun straight from the fifties and a yellow dress camouflaged by a red-and-white polka dot apron entered my space bubble with a highly-annunciated, boisterous “How the heck are ya this mornin’, sir?” I checked my watch to verify the time-space continuum, and responded, “I’m fine. How are you?” I instantly regretted my politeness (thanks, mother) and sat listening to her talk about how her neighbor had shot her dog yesterday afternoon after it chewed on one of his prize-winning petunias and, my, you never know what’s going to happen in these parts these days, what with the degradation of the Bible, and thank Jesus I still have my cats to love on!
I proceeded to order an omelette, since it was “still morning” and all, and soaked in the gossipy women’s banter, the kitschy yet oh-so-typical diner décor on the walls, and the feeling you get when you’re clogging your arteries in small-town America. I finished my meal, left a twenty on the table, and like many times before, left the eatery and heaved myself up into my conveyance and was on my way to another place, another time, another memory… The road to self-discovery was one fraught with the unknown, and I was only somewhat eager to see what lay ahead of me after Crowley that hot June afternoon.