Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Flash Fiction Challenge Day: THE WHITE VAN

March 2013 Flash Fiction Challenge:
Write a story of about 1000 words about a white van.

by Jerry Jerman

“How much longer?”
“How much longer what?”
“How much longer do I gotta wait? I mean hell I’ve been here every day for nearly a week. You don’t know. You’re not here. You’re off in some hotel somewhere, right?”
“You’re breaking up. I told you to get a decent cell phone. Anyway, what’s it to you? You need to be somewhere else? You have an important meeting you’re missing?”
“I’m just getting sick of this shit. Just sitting in this damn van alone all day every day. Hell, man, my ass is getting tired.”
“You’re getting paid, aren’t you? You complaining because you’re not getting paid?”
“No, that’s not it. Of course I’m getting paid—”
“Well, shut up then and forget about your ass. Your ass is getting well paid for sitting in that van and keeping your eyes open. When the guy shows up then you can call back and we’ll go from there.”
“That’s another thing.”
“This guy I’m waiting for.”
“What about him?”
“That’s what I mean—what about him? What’d he do to get this all this attention? . . . Hey, hey, you still there?”
“I wonder about you, bub.”
“Can’t I ask a few questions?”
“You always ask too many questions.”
“Aren’t you a little curious?”
“I’m not a cat. I don’t get paid to be curious. I don’t think about it.”
“For chrissake, just think about it. I’m sitting out here in this goddamn smelly van for a week waiting for a guy I’ve never seen before. You don’t know what it’s like. You’re not here. You’d wonder about it yourself.”
“You know what I wonder? I wonder why I’m bothering listening to you on this crackly phone, that’s what I’m wondering. I’ve got to go. I’ve got other things to do than listening to you bitching.”
“Hey, wait a minute. Why can’t I ask a few questions? What’s the harm? Why can’t I wonder about stuff?”
“What’s to wonder about? It’s a job.”
“Some job.”
“I’ll let you in on something, bub. You might need to consider another line of employment. Something that’ll give you a lot of time to think about things. To wonder about what you’re doing and all. You know what I mean?”
“I’m just saying—”
“You’re just saying too damn much. Just shut up why don’t you? Sit back and play games on your phone or read a magazine or whatever you got in there and forget about your ass and wondering about what you’re doing there and why the earth spins in space and whatever the hell else you’re wondering about. OK? Will you do me that favor and just shut up?”
“Geez, you are in some kind of mood today.”
“Well, you sort of put me in it, bub, you know?”
“Just for your information, I’m sick of playing games on my phone. And I don’t have any magazines or newspapers or nothing. I’d plug in a portable TV but that’d run down the battery and I sure as hell don’t want to get stuck on this godforsaken street in a goddamn stinking white van that sticks out like a sore thumb. Who picked this van out anyway? That’s another thing. Every other car on the street is black or red or navy blue. It makes me stand out.”
“For God’s sake I’m hanging up.”
“Wait a minute. Just think about it. I’m set up in a large ass white van on a street of dark cars and I’m supposed to watch for some guy you just described to me? What’s wrong with this picture?”
“You tell me. You’re in the van.”
“I’ll tell you. It’s weird is what it is. I wonder if someone’s watching me, you know?”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Think about it. I’m sticking out here like the only tooth in the mouth of some damn hick from Arkansas. For days, man. Maybe I’m being set up. Maybe I’m the one who’s being watched.”
“I think you’ve been alone for too long.”
“That’s what I’ve been telling you!”
“Tell you what. There’s a corner grocery. You can see it from there, can’t you?”
“What? A grocery? You mean the one that says Nina’s? Down on the end of the street?”
“Yeah, that’s it.”
“What about it?”
“Since you’re sick of cell phone games go down to that grocery and buy yourself some magazines. Some good ones. You know, the titty ones. They might be under the counter in that place, but I’m sure they’ve got them. Then just take your magazines back to the van and think about something else other than how smelly it is or how your ass is sore or what’s keeping this guy. OK?”
“You want me to get some dirty magazines?”
“It’ll take your mind off your troubles, bub. And it’ll put an end to this call.”
“I’ll tell you what will put an end to . . .”
“I’m losing you again. You still there?”
“Yeah, yeah. Hey, I think that’s him. That’s the guy!”
“Our guy?”
“Yeah. He just came out of that grocery we were talking about.”
“You’re sure it’s him?”
“Dark brown hair, moustache, nice gray suit, tan briefcase.”
“You sure?”
“I’m telling you, it’s the guy. It’s him.”
“OK, good. So I’ll tell you what to do.”
“For chrissake tell me. I’m ready for this.”
“Just sit there. Stay where you are.”
“Stay put. In the driver’s seat. That’s where you are, right?”
“Yes, I’m in the goddamn driver’s seat, but what is this?”
“I’m telling you to stay where you are. OK? You got that?”
“Yeah, but he’s crossing the street. He’s coming across. He’s coming toward the van. For chrissake.”
“Stay put.”
“What’s this all about?”
“You’ll find out.”
“For chrissake.”
“Just stay put.”
“Ah, man, I can’t believe you did this to me. I can’t believe . . . Hey? Hey?”

Jerry Jerman: By day I work as marketing director director for Outreach at the University of Oklahoma. I also teach humanities and film (including film noir) for OU. A while back I published six children's books, but my true love is crime fiction.

The Man in the Van
Patti Abbott
Danny had seen her face, pinched and white at the window, ever since he began coming here. Many windows in the area overlooked this street and the ocean across from it but only one drew his attention. He’d reckon half the condos here were empty in January. And the rest of the occupants came and went—he could picture some of them after all this time: the man with the swinging briefcase, the Hispanic kids going off to school in their uniforms, the Korean woman in green who probably worked at a nail place, the woman with the walker.

But the woman with the pinched, white face, was always up there—peering at him like the face of God. What the hell did she do at that window all day? He didn’t see a computer screen but she was there too much for it to be happenstance.

“Buddy.” It was a town cop again. “You living in this van?”

“Someone report me?” Danny asked, looking up at the window where the woman continued to sit. She was staring out at the ocean now, pretending to ignore him. Acting like she wasn’t the one who made the call. He could imagine her saying, “Officer, there’s this pervert who hangs outside my place.”

“Nobody reported you.” The cop was heavy and chasing anyone down the street would have its difficulties. His car had a surfboard on its roof. Be fun to watch this fat daddy go after a drowning swimmer.“We keep an eye on cars that are here too much. Run the license plate numbers. You know. Bet you been through this routine before.”

“What’s too much?”

A shrug. “How about we take a look in the van?” The cop started to move toward the rear.

“Have a search warrant?” 

The cop laughed. “Don’t need a warrant to check a mobile vehicle although yours isn’t exactly mobile. You might be harboring drugs, illegal aliens, guns. Who knows?”

Danny unlocked the back door without saying another word. In the van’s rear window, he could see her reflected face, still at the window. Shit! She was staring at him again now. What the fuck?

“Well, you got yourself set up real nice back here,” the cop said. “Bike, sleeping bag, surfboard, coolers full of food, beer. Even a little stove to cook on, clothes. Looks like home sweet home to me. Can I see the registration and your license?”

Danny handed them over and the cop ran them both on a program on his IPad. Everything was high-tech now—he could probably be jailed, tried, and incarcerated courtesy of this gadget.

 “Nothing coming up on you, but you can’t live in this van on a street around here. These folks aren’t gonna overlook it. Look, there’s places to go if you’re homeless.”

“I’m not homeless,” Danny said. “I move the van every night. I’m just here in the daytime. Surf, ride the bike, hang out.”

The cop was already shaking his head. “Folks who live here like to have this spot open for guests—they pay the high taxes to insure it. You can’t monopolize it.”

“Someone complained then.”

“No one complained. Just get a move on, Mr….” He looked at the license again as he handed it back. “Stark.”

Danny waited until the cop had left, and then backed the van up and took off. He drove to the next town, parked the van, pulled the bike out, and rode it back. She was still there. He knew she’d called the cops. Gotten tired of having her view ruined by his van. He should throw a scare into her. Show her who she was messing with.

A package lay on her front steps. Eight condos in the building-four on each side of the door. The door was coded, but after he’d pushed a few buzzers, someone rang him in. People were too lazy to be bothered with checking. Grabbing the package, he bounded up the two flights and knocked at her door. No answer.
So she could watch him all day long, call the cops, make his life pure misery, but not open the door. He knocked a bit louder—didn’t want to bring down whoever let him in. Still no answer. The door looked easy to open. Should he try it? As a teenager, he and his friends had done it for fun-broke into houses, took what they could, and then trashed the place. Twenty years ago now, but this door looked just like the ones they’d popped back then. Trashing her place might be just the thing—the way to get back at her. Scare her a little. Once he'd liked doing that.

He was inside within seconds. Cheap locks for an oceanfront condo. He moved about silently, but it looked like nobody was home. Kitchen, empty. Dining room, empty. Living room, empty. And then he saw it in the window: it was an electric fan—one of those old ones that swiveled back and forth—with a dummy’s head attached to it. Back and forth, back and forth. What the fuck! What could it be for? He found out a few seconds later when a pelican headed straight for the huge glass window. The moving fan, tucked right up to the window, scared it away just in time.

His woman with the pinched white face was a nothing but a dummy’s head on a fan.

“So you’re just parked on the street to do a little surfing?”

It was the same cop he’d met earlier standing at the open door, gun pulled. “Not up to anything else, huh?”

“I thought she was hassling me.” He started to point to the fan. “Thought she’d called it in.”

“That’s a damn poor story,” the cop said. “Maybe you can come up with a better one on the way to the station.”

The White Van

by Toe Hallock

Emma rescued her cooling cup of coffee from where she had left it on the kitchen counter. Moving to the living room, she perched on a wicker stool and took in the splendor of sand and surf forming the Pacific boundary of Manhattan Beach. The window facing west offered a wide-angle panoramic view of the entire South Bay. All the way from Palos Verdes south, to Santa Monica north. On clear days she could even spot Santa Catalina thirty miles straight across the sea; and, sometimes, the Channel Islands off towards Santa Barbara up the coast.  Directly below her beach house was Highland Avenue. Sometimes she would feel the rumble of vehicles, especially the heavier ones as they passed by, since the entire neighborhood of what were originally weekend get-aways was built upon a series of rising sand dunes. Looking down and toward the beach is Caluican Park, named after the one-time sister city. From there two parking lots stepped their way down to the Strand where the extinct Pacific Electric Red Cars traversed  tracks parallel to the ocean.  And then ran all the way east to San Berdoo.

Her latest boyfriend Randy had not contacted her for three days. Which agitated her no end. He hadn’t responded to voice mail or text messages. She always figured him more responsible. A software engineer, he chose to take California’s  Highway One to his destination, San Jose. By his way of thinking, driving along the coast might help him clear his thoughts, sort out his jumbled mind, in solving a complex computer program glitch.

At least, thank God, there was no sign of the white van in the parking lot. She  felt as she was being stalked. By whom, she had no clue. And why? Maybe she was just feeling guilty. It wasn’t her fault she had to shoot her lunatic husband. With his own service revolver, no less. While he was asleep. It was self-defense. So the jury ruled. She got everything. The house, the car, and his government pension.

The prosecution argued that she had acted in bad faith. Brought up rumors as to her irresponsible lifestyle. That her husband was upset about her promiscuous behavior, and wasteful spending habits. Apparently, she wanted it all. So when he attempted to reign her in, she killed him. Plain and simple. On the other hand, the defense brought up facts in her favor. Such as, he was forced into early retirement because of self-control issues. He needed anger management counseling. The agency would help in his re-hab. But nothing was guaranteed, or certain to be successful.

When she left the courtroom that day in triumph, she felt a slight tug at her purse but thought nothing of it because of her elation. Until she got home. It was then she discovered a folded piece of paper with a two sentence note:

“When the white van appears; Expect your worse fears.”

From that day on she spotted white vans everywhere. They would show up in various parking spots all around Manhattan Beach. Hell of a scare tactic. At one point, she even called the local Police Department. Their response was that all vans are white, nothing we can do until you have more details. Emma realized that her late husband, in his line of work, dealt with a number of characters who operated outside the law. Some who dished info that helped him solve a case. And those he kept from prison for services rendered. Were any of them assassins ready to uphold his honor?         

 Staring into the distance, she suddenly saw the white van appear.  “Jesus Christ! Won’t this ever end?”  

The phone rang. Landline, because he insisted it was safest in an emergency. Emma  answered. “Randy? Is it you, honey?  Where are you?”

The answer was chilling. “At the bottom of a cliff. Dead. Mutilated. And you’re next.”
“Wait, wait!” Emma shouted into the phone. “Who is this?” But it was no use. Looking out she saw the white van. With  a streak of blue across its right fender. She trembled. That was the color of Randy’s pickup. Damn!
White Van

A.J. Wright

         Everywhere I go these days the white vans seem to be there. It's gotten so bad I'm not sure if they are following me, or I am following them.  This whole mess goes back to that night at Bellini’s Ghost, the bar I used to frequent before the neighborhood gentrified. I was in there one night, and this stranger comes in, and Tony asks him “What will you have?” and the guy grins and says, “Make mine danger.”  Tony, who was seldom amused by anything, burst out laughing and asked, “What’s in that one?” and the guy reeled off a combination of bizarre ingredients, and Tony made him one on the spot. We never saw that guy again, but Tony tells the story over and over when somebody says, “Make mine blah blah” and he says, “How about a danger instead?” Like I said, we never saw Mr. Danger again, but I distinctly remember that when he left he crossed the street and got into a white van and drove away.

            Now that I think back on it, my life started its slow but inevitable downhill slide about that time.  You know the song—if it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all. Mother finally died of cancer after years of painful lingering. The crops died, and the plague spread across the land. No, wait, different story. Oh, and my cat disappeared. I think a hawk or coyote got her. They’re moving into the cities, you know.

            I met a girl and that ended badly, too, although not with cancer, plague or coyotes. Her name was Melody, and for a while the song was sweet. After a few years on the job I had at a local bank, a new owner sacked many employees and I was one of them. I decided to go back to school, and found a culinary program at a local community college that promised good eating if nothing else. Or so I thought.

            She was in that class, and from the first day I paid attention to little else. That hair, that walk, the world weary pout were just too much. “You aren’t planning on stalking me, are you?” she asked me after the first class, no doubt having noticed my inability to take my eyes off her.  She had waited in the hall for me to exit. “Do you feel a stalking coming on?” I responded, trying to sound concerned. She laughed at that, and just then I became her next victim.

            Over the next year we made it to class enough times to pass and get the certification in culinary studies or whatever it was, but just barely. I wonder what I’ve done with that certificate, which looked pretty impressive mostly due to the fake parchment paper and the fake font used I guess. Probably gave it to Mother, and her stuff hit the dumpster before the ink on her death certificate was dry.

            Anyway, when not in class that year Melody and I found plenty of things to do. Every morning she began with something like, “Why don’t we go to the art museum today? I hear they have a new exhibit of 19th century European death masks” Or “Why don’t we go to the library downtown? I hear they have an exhibit on medieval poisons.” Always death, death, death. How and why a woman who looked like a bunco blonde spent so much time dwelling on death was beyond me. At that time, anyway.

            But I really wasn’t paying attention as well as I should have been, I guess. I had some kind of fever that kept distorting my reality, no matter how many doctors I consulted. I really didn’t need a doctor; I knew what was wrong with me. Ray Charles used to sing it, with a bit more zip.  Then came her request.

            Nothing about it rang any bells with me, although a six-year probably would have balked. She wanted me to take a small, locked suitcase across town to her brother. I didn’t know she had a brother. Now that I think back on it, I wasn’t too sure about a mother and a father, either. Anyway, I had strict instructions. I was to take a cab to the 22nd Street subway stop, take the subway to 48th Street, and then take another cab to his apartment. A white van with no markings would be parked in front of the building. I had to deliver the suitcase by 3:00 pm, but I had a two hour head start.

            So I set off on this delivery quest, confident that just a simple journey lay ahead of me. I might as well have been with Dante heading down into the inferno. Well, maybe not that bad, but still…The first cab got stuck in a traffic jam, and then broke down. As he left me at the curb and headed off on foot himself, he apologized for his poor attention to auto maintenance.

            I had no clue, so I set off toward the subway stop on foot, hoping traffic would start moving again and I could catch another cab. I finally made it to the subway and rode it as far as 48th Street, wondering all the while what made that case so heavy. As I emerged at street level and began looking around for the second cab—well, third, but Melody didn’t have to know—I realized it was already after 3.      

            What happened next is still a confused blur, but maybe it will come back to me in another lifetime. Two men came up to me on either side, one poking something hard pushed into my back. I was instructed to go with them to the nearest dark alley, and now my head hurts terribly and I’m still in the dark.

            I’ve learned one thing. Mr. Danger and his white van never disappeared; they are everywhere. In fact, I think I’m going to finally get in one very soon, one that says “Jefferson County Coroner” on both sides.
White Vans Parked Elsewhere (I am missing a few that haven't posted as of 8:30. I will add as the day goes on although it's turned into a babysitting day so I might be slow on the draw), 

Kieran Shea Rob Kitchin 
Loren Eaton 
Jerry House
Sandra Scoppettone
Al Tucher
John Weagly
Bob, The Wordless
Dana C. Kabel  
Dyer Wilk 
Kathleen Ryan


Unknown said...

Sorry for the delay, Patti. Obsessive proof-reading on my part. Here's the link:

Charles Gramlich said...

Cool, I'll have to try and get back to check these out when I've got more time. Getting ready for classes now.

J F Norris said...

My attempt to schedule mine in advance failed. It was supposed to post at 12:30 AM and it didn't. It's up now: Manual Transmission"

J F Norris said...

Those pesky pelicans! Do they really fly that close to windows? I liked the story, Patti. Vagrants and itinerants are never trusted these days, poor guys.

Loren Eaton said...

Nice one, Patti! And, man, that picture with yours was pretty darn creepy.

Yvette said...

Good stuff, Patti. I read all the stories posted here and now I'm off to read the others. But not before a few comments, of course.

The first story by Jerry Jerman reminded me of Tarantino-land. I love a good story told in dialogue.

Your story was creepy, Patti. I admire people who can do creepy. I am at a loss with the concept. :) Great pix too.

The next story by Toe Hallock is a grim reminder that crime doesn't pay. Well, not always.

The final story by A.J. Wright was also terrific. Love the line: 'I was instructed to go with them to the nearest dark alley, and now my head hurts terribly and I'm still in the dark.'

Good stuff.

Kieran Shea said...

Dang. I knew I should have written about the Pope-Mobile.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Topical is tough.

Kathleen A. Ryan said...

Sorry for the delay, Patti. Mine's up at Women of Mystery. It's called, "Ten Cents."

Thanks for hosting the FFC!

Anonymous said...

Oh, Patti, these are great stories!! Thanks to everyone for them and thanks to you Patti for the idea and for your own excellent contribution.