Flash Fiction: Keep Portland Weird



Keep Portland Weird

By: David K. Hulegaard


The alarm went off at 5:45 a.m. every Monday through Friday. The routine had become so mundane that Lisa rarely ever slept till the designated wake-up call. If she was lucky, she’d open her eyes at 5:30 a.m. and stare at the bright green LED display until golden oldies blasted from her favorite AM radio station. If she was unlucky, her mornings began around 4:00 a.m.

Today was an unlucky day.

Lisa hated her job. Writing obituaries for The Oregonian failed to excite her anymore. Originally proposed to her as a “foot in the door” opportunity, she wrote the best damn obituaries in the Pacific Northwest, hoping that it would eventually lead to something better. Unfortunately, her stellar work made her irreplaceable, and her obituaries were the most requested among local residents. Lisa removed all the stress from passing on, as the departing souls could rest in peace knowing she’d write the perfect synopsis of their life.

When Lisa arrived at the office at 6:54 a.m., she was the first person from her department to show up. She booted up her Mac, wondering what banal assignments had landed at her desk overnight.

Before he’d turned the corner to enter her work area, Lisa smelled her boss’s potent Starbucks coffee. “Morning, Craig,” she said without averting her eyes from the still updating email inbox.

“Hey, Lisa,” Craig said, running fingers through his salt-and-pepper hair. “You always know it’s me. How do you do that?”

“It’s a gift.”

“So…” Craig leaned against Lisa’s desk, sloshing his paper cup of coffee. “Got a weird one for ya this morning. Did you get my email yet?”

“Not yet, I just got here.” Lisa moused over the email icon, noting twenty-one unread messages. “Why, what’s going on?”

“Well, you’re aware of the television show Portlandia’s incredible popularity, right?”

Lisa rolled her eyes. “You mean the show that tries to make Portland look cooler than it really is, when in fact it could be filmed in any other city and achieve the same results?”

“Yeah.” Craig rubbed the back of his neck. “I know you’ve got some pretty strong opinions about it, which is only going to make this much harder.”

Lisa swiveled her chair to face Craig. “Going to make what much harder?”

“Well…” Craig looked down into his caramel-colored coffee. “You were sort of featured on last night’s episode.”

“I’m sorry, I what?” Lisa twirled curls of her blonde hair around a pen. “Because it sounded like you just said I was featured on the show.”

“Not you, you, but a character based on you.”

“I’m lost,” Lisa said.

Craig wandered over to the wall and flipped through the months of a 2015 Walking Dead calendar. Actors clad in soiled clothing, and drenched in copious amounts of stage blood graced the pages. Upon reaching the end, Craig moved his attention to strips of Walking Dead dad joke memes Lisa had printed, cut out, and pinned to the wall.

“I don’t get it,” Craig said. “Why did he name his iPod ‘Titanic’?”

Lisa removed her glasses and rubbed her stinging eyes.

“Oh!” Craig laughed aloud. “It’s ‘syncing.’ That’s a homonym joke. How clever!”

“Craig, can we get back to the whole Portlandia conversation?”

“Right, right. Sorry.” Craig pulled up a co-worker’s chair and sat down. “As you know, the show’s writers spend a lot of time here doing research for their skits. They heard about you and your following, and thought it was very Portlandia.”

“My following?”

“Well, yeah.” Craig sipped his coffee. “No one in the greater metropolitan area wants to die unless Lisa Norbeck is going to write their obituary.”

Lisa tossed her glasses down on the mousepad. “Okay, so what does this have to do with the email you sent me this morning?”

“Yeah, about that,” Craig said. “Soooo… apparently the sketch was a huge hit, and Portlandia’s ratings were the highest ever. It went virile, as the kids say these days.”

Lisa opened a new Safari window and brought up YouTube. She keyed PORTLANDIA OBITUARY SKETCH into the search field and pressed ENTER. The official clip popped up at the top of the search results, boasting over eighteen million views within the last twenty-four hours.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Lisa said.

“That’s not even the weird part I was mentioning.”

“It’s not?”

“No.” Craig set his cup down on Lisa’s desk. “Due to the overwhelming success of the segment, we’ve received thousands of messages from people all over the United States looking to visit Portland and die, just to have you write their obituaries.”

“Craig, are you playing a prank on me or something?” Lisa slumped in her black, faux-leather chair. “It’s way too early for this.”

“I’m serious,” Craig said. “Folks are offering good money, too—more than we charge our advertisers. We’re sitting on a gold mine over here.”

Lisa stared at Craig, mouth agape, and waiting for a punchline that never came.

“Don’t worry, though,” Craig said. “There’s a pay increase involved here as well.”

“Not the part I was worried about, Craig.”

“Look, I get it, it’s a bit out there.” Craig picked lint off his tie. “Think of it as a service we’re providing for tourists. You know, giving them the true Portlandia experience.”

“What in the actual f—“

“Our first customer’s payment has already cleared our account, so I need you to get started right away in order to make tomorrow’s edition,” Craig said. “I sent you the details: Guy flew in from Billings, Montana late last night, then dropped dead first thing this morning on the Eastbank Esplanade. Write him something snappy.”

Lisa closed her eyes, hoping when she opened them again, she’d be back in bed staring at the bright green LED display of her alarm clock.

“You’re a rock star, Lisa.” Craig stood up and collected his cup of coffee. “Let’s make the families of these rich dead people proud to have had their relatives die in the Beaver State!”

When Lisa opened her eyes, Craig was gone, but she was still at work. She turned to her computer and scanned her emails, mortified to discover the conversation with her boss had actually taken place. It hadn’t been an aneurysm after all, despite her wishes to the contrary.

With a heavy sigh and a cracking of her knuckles, Lisa went to work on her assignment:

Meadows, Edward 42; February 12, 1973 – June 8, 2015

Edward Meadows, beloved partner of no one, and purveyor of nothing in particular, quietly passed at the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade surrounded by commuter cyclists, morning joggers, and customers waiting in line for Voodoo Donuts.

Although Edward enjoyed the sights and sounds of Portland through the magic of television, his visit to our lovely city was short-lived—literally. Fear not, fine citizens, Edward’s death was 100% organic.

Most Portlandians never knew Edward, but statistically speaking, at least twenty thousand of you had the opportunity to tell him you’re gluten free, and another five hundred of you would’ve asked him for spare change.

Edward did not arrive in Portland on the back of a unicorn, nor did he consume a single tablespoon of kombucha in our fair city, but in time, this Billings, Montana native surely would’ve opened a food cart, or at the very least, raised chickens.

Funeral services will be held this weekend at Pioneer Courthouse Square, presided by Petey, the Portland International Airport carpet. In lieu of flowers, the family of Edward Meadows humbly requests that you stick googly eyes on his casket. Portland Timbers memorabilia is also welcome.

The Hotel Ghost Story

I can be a little mischievous at times, but it’s all meant to be harmless fun. Nothing I do is ever intended to be malicious… but I may have potentially crossed that line with a prank I recently pulled while staying at a San Francisco area hotel. 🙂


While observing a chest-of-drawers in my room, my mind began to wander: How would somebody react to opening up a drawer and finding documentation from a previous guest recounting some frightening experiences during their stay? Would they immediately dismiss it as a joke or would it seep into their subconscious and make them sleep with one eye open?


I had to give it a try if for no other reason than just to provide myself with a few fleeting chuckles before a maid found it and threw it out.


When I talked about this practical joke on my Facebook and Twitter earlier this week, it generated a surprising amount of positive reaction. Some offered their support of my twisted sense of humor and others wondered if I was only joking.




So, to set the record straight, here is the letter that I left behind in my hotel room for the next guest. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as they will! 🙂




March 26th, 2013


To whoever finds this, I’d like the records to show that I am of sound and intelligent mind and have stayed at this hotel many times before. I have felt uneasy staying here in the past, but always assumed that it was due to exhaustion from traveling, or perhaps just because I can’t completely unwind away from home, no matter how comfortable the room is.


Tonight I find myself in room 209, which is my first time ever staying on the second floor. Something hasn’t felt right since I checked in, but again, I figured the sensation was a result of simply being travel-weary.


I consider myself to be both a rational thinker and appropriately skeptical, but repeated strange occurrences have me questioning my own beliefs. I have decided to document my evening in hopes that someone else, someday, may share similar experiences and be able to explain them. I cannot.


9:06pm – I called down to the front desk and asked point blank if they’ve ever received claims from guests about the hotel being haunted, but the manager just laughed as though I was playing a joke on him. When I assured him that I wasn’t, he said that if there was nothing he could do for me, I needed to get off the line.


9:27pm – The air in the room has thickened. Hard to describe, but there’s a heaviness that wasn’t present earlier. I just feel… some kind of pressure.


9:40pm – The guest in the room directly above mine is driving me nuts with all the stomping around. For a nice hotel, you’d think it would attract a more courteous clientele. Asshole.


10:02pm – Finally got tired of the noisy guest upstairs and called the front desk to complain. The manager informed me that there is no third floor anymore and that they haven’t had rooms to rent above the second floor since the late 80s.


10:19pm – I tried watching some TV to take my mind off of things, but I keep seeing some kind of movement outside of the bedroom within the living room area. It’s been mostly through my peripheral vision, though. Everything seems still when I look straight on. Probably just my eyes playing tricks on me.


10:33pm – The loud stomping coming from above has started up again. I know it’s not in my head because the light fixture mounted to the ceiling is shaking. WTF?


10:36pm – Called the front desk to complain again and now the night manager is starting to sound pissed. He essentially told me to leave him alone and go to sleep, but in a (barely) nicer way. I suppose this means that I’m on my own for the duration of my stay. I’d love to just check-out and not deal with this, but the only other hotel in the area is completely booked up, and this hotel’s manager told me that I can’t switch rooms without “upgrading,” which I can’t afford.


10:53pm – Okay, that was a very real bang that just came from the kitchen. I know I should go look, but I don’t want to.


10:55pm – Yep, that was a horrible idea. Turned on the light in the kitchen and found my digital camera in the sink. It was on the table next to my laptop bag when I checked-in, which is a good twenty feet or more away. This is getting ridiculous.


11:37pm – Okay, it may be time for me to leave. I don’t want to write what I’m thinking, but… I’m nearly 100% positive that a woman in a white gown just peeked into my room from the other side of the door frame. That wasn’t the corner of my eye this time. I saw her clear as day, almost transparent, pressed against the wall as though she were hiding.


12:01am – I don’t know why I felt the need to do this, but I turned off all the lights and the TV and just laid flat on the bed, staring out into the dark living room area. Some light is trickling in from the airfield, but very little. In the darkness I continue seeing shapes moving quickly back and forth across the door frame. My depth perception might be a little disoriented without the light, but I could swear they’re moving closer.


12:12am – I’ve had enough and I’m leaving. I just felt fingertips pressing against the back of my head and sliding down my neck. I think I sprained my ankle when I jolted up off the bed because I’m in a lot of pain and can’t put any weight on it.


12:20am – I’m all packed up and have a cab waiting for me downstairs. Whoever finds this, I wish you better luck in this room than I had. Just know that if you do have experiences of your own, you’re not alone and you’re not crazy.

Short Story: “04/05/94”

Introduction: Independent authors Brendan Swogger, Tony Healey, and I have been giving each other little short story prompts over the past several months. It started off as a fun way to keep our minds sharp, but quickly turned into a game where the three of us try to outdo one another.

It was Brendan’s turn to supply a new prompt, and this is what he came up with: “A man finds a penny on the ground. What happens next?”

I mulled this prompt over for far too long, fearing that Brendan had finally managed to stump me. Then an idea came to me that was a little abstract, but I thought maybe I could work with it. Below is the story that I came up with. I hope that you’ll like it. Also be sure to check out Brendan and Tony’s offerings on their respective websites as well.


By: David K. Hulegaard

Theresa’s phone call woke me up at 11:03 a.m. on Friday, April 8th, 1994. I remember because my first blurry-eyed reaction was to smack the SNOOZE button on my alarm clock, trying to get it to shut up. Once I had realized my mistake, I cleared my throat and then picked up the receiver, managing to produce a barely coherent, “Hello?” that sounded as though I had been gargling gravel.

With school being out, I had stayed up most of the previous night playing Super Nintendo, finally deciding on a bed time somewhere in the neighborhood of 5:00 a.m. The phone call had interrupted my plan of sleeping in past lunch time.

Theresa’s voice was bright and perky as always, which annoyed the shit out of me in my sleep deprived state, though, in fairness I had only myself to blame for forgetting to turn the phone’s ringer off. She also spoke in long stretches without a breath, spitting out more sentences per second than most people can generate within an entire conversation.

“Did I wake you up? Were you sleeping? I’m sorry. What are you doing? Do you need to eat? Do you need me to let you go? That sucks about Kurt Cobain,” she fired out in rapid succession. It was typical of our usual phone calls, only I lacked the patience to grin and bear it that morning.

As I was about to bring the conversation to an abrupt end and get some more shuteye, the sound of her voice saying “Kurt Cobain” lingered in my head, taking its sweet time to finally register.

“Wait… what?” I said.

“Yeah, you didn’t hear? They found Kurt Cobain’s body. He killed himself. So sad.”

I rubbed my eyes, still very groggy from the unceremonious wake-up call. I could hear her words, but I could not process them. I was alert enough to know that it was April, so I concluded that Theresa was attempting to play an April Fools’ joke on me, albeit a not very funny one. I could foster no reaction other than to lie there in stunned silence while I waited for her to spring the punch line on me, but it never came. Kurt was gone.

Like most other seventeen year olds at that time, I was devastated by Kurt’s death. I felt as though I had lost a close friend despite the fact that I had never met him. The thing about Kurt Cobain was that you didn’t need to meet him to know him. He was stitched into every composition he’d ever written, intricately layering his deepest, inner-most thoughts into every line, sometimes appearing as though he was speaking in code. Kurt wasted very little words, and even the most seemingly nonsensical lyrics were all a part of the world as he saw it. He didn’t care if you ‘got’ it or not, he just encouraged you to come along for the ride.

The day following Kurt’s reported death was a Saturday. I had not slept well and forced myself out of bed at a reasonable hour. My parents were already awake, eating breakfast together at the kitchen table, a two-seater that was little more than a glorified desk. Upon hearing the click of my bedroom door closing, my dad turned to look at me over his shoulder, almost tipping over the full glass of orange juice beside his left elbow. He scrambled to bury a section of newspaper underneath a pile of the morning edition.

As I staggered down the hallway into the kitchen, my eyes locked on the stack of newspapers.

“What are you trying to hide?” I asked my father.

My parents’ eyes met, followed by my dad letting out an over exaggerated sigh. He moved aside a collection of papers and uncovered the front page for me to see. Kurt Cobain’s angelic blue eyes stared back at me from beneath the headline, “Soaring Spirit, Fallen Star.” It was only then that I had shed my first tears over the news, as if somehow the reality had failed to sink in until that moment.

My mother got up from the table and put her arms around me.

“I’m so sorry, honey,” she said, kissing the top of my head.

“I don’t understand why you were trying to hide it, though,” I said, resting my head against my mother’s shoulder. “It happened yesterday. I already knew.”

My dad swished a sip of juice back and forth inside his mouth before swallowing and wiping his lips with a napkin.

“Well, son. Your mother and I just weren’t sure how you were going to react, so we just wanted to be cautious.”

“Cautious?” I pulled away from my mother’s touch. “As in you thought I might try to kill myself just because Kurt Cobain did?”

My mother moved over to my dad’s side and gently rubbed her hand on his back.

“We just know how much he meant to you, and we wanted to make sure you were okay first. We know he was your idol.”

I was livid. My “idol?” Like I was some mindless lemming that followed the herd over the cliff, incapable of independent thought? The glass had shattered, giving light to the truth about how my parents actually saw me, and that hurt even more than Kurt’s death. I stormed off back down the hallway and into my room, shutting the door behind me with enough force to let them know I was not to be disturbed.

The first Nirvana song I listened to after Kurt’s death was “All Apologies.” I didn’t know why at the time, but I just had to hear that song. Looking back now, it makes perfect sense. Subconsciously I knew that it would be the last Nirvana song to ever be recorded. Of course, I didn’t know at the time that my assumption would prove to be incorrect, but I would not receive that clarification for another eight years.

As I laid on my bed, staring up at the glow-in-the-dark sticker constellations on the ceiling, hands folded beneath my head, and listening to the music, I remembered something. It was the sight of my mom sobbing uncontrollably in front of the television when I was a child, no more than four years old at the time. I had never seen her cry before, which in turn, caused me to cry. My mother wrapped her arm around my waist and pulled me into her grasp as she wiped her eyes with a tissue in her other hand.

On the television were lots of police cars and flashing lights. People holding microphones and talking to the camera as lines of white text scrolled across the bottom of the screen. I could not follow what was going on, but I knew that whatever it was hurt my mother deeply.

Then it clicked: That was the day that John Lennon was shot and killed outside his apartment in Manhattan. I realized right then that while age may separate the different generations of people, the pain felt from losing an artist so near and dear to your heart was universal.

It has been over eighteen years since Kurt Cobain’s death, and the sun continues to rise and set as it always has, each day serving as another step forward from that tragic day. The pain has subsided with time, but the impact of his music has not tarnished by a single day.

I never fear that Kurt will become just a distant memory from a time gone by in my life. At no point during the past eighteen years have I heard a single piece of music that could move me like Kurt’s did, and something tells me that I never will again.

It’s funny to be thinking about all of this again. These thoughts are never far away from my mind, but never find their way passed my lips. Every so often, a random event or a conversation with a person can trigger these moments of reflection. One such event occurred today.

I walked out from the grocery story, plastic bags in each hand, and clumsily dropped the change from my purchase. I sat the bags down and stooped to gather up the coins. The lone penny in the bunch, its copper all shiny and clean, reflected the sun’s bright rays into my eyes and obscured my view.

When my vision returned, I noticed the date mark of 1994 stamped onto the coin’s face. I smiled and slid it into the breast pocket of my sky blue button-up. They say if you find a penny and pick it up, all that day you’ll have good luck. I don’t know about any of that, but at the very least, it provided me with a few moments of joy as I remembered my “idol,” and the twenty plus years of entertainment he left behind.

Short Story: Road Trip

INTRODUCTION: Brendan Swogger, Tony Healey and I are at it again. We had so much fun with our little creative writing exercise a couple of weeks ago that we thought it was time to give it another go. This time, the prompt was short and sweet:

A bored kid sits in the backseat on a road trip. Something abnormal in the sky catches his eye. Go.

Knowing Tony like I do, I expected him to indulge in his passion for UFOs, so I knew that I had to try something completely different with my submission. You can read Tony’s short story “Ray” here.

Brendan, on the other hand, is a wild card. That kid is so creative that I never know just what angle he’s going to come from. I only know that he’s going to blow my mind with whatever he writes. At the time of this posting, Brendan had not yet submitted his story, but when he does, it can be found here.

As for mine, read on below. I went a little abstract this time out. I hope you’ll like it!

Road Trip

By: David K. Hulegaard

Oswald’s lips glistened with drool as he mashed the buttons on his GameBoy. His eyes followed the action on the tiny green-tinted screen with intensity until the LOW BATTERY light flashed, then the picture went blank. He slapped the side of his GameBoy in frustration, trying to eke out one last drop of juice from the batteries, but it was no use. He dropped the device hard onto the seat beside him.

“What’s the matter, Oz?” His father asked, looking into the rearview mirror.

“The stupid batteries died, and I was just about to beat the Green Goblin.” Oswald folded his arms across his chest and pouted. “It’s so stupid!”

Oswald’s mother turned around in her seat to face him. “Didn’t you bring extra batteries, sweetie? We told you this was going to be a long trip. Remember?”

“Yes, mom,” Oswald sighed. “I did bring extra batteries, but I used all those up too. This sucks!”

“Okay, okay, Ozzie.” His mother rubbed his knee. “Let’s not get all worked up about it. When we do our next stop for gas, we’ll buy some more. All right?”

“Well, when’s that gonna be? We’ve been driving forever.”

“It shouldn’t be too much longer, Ozzie.” His mother turned up the volume on the radio. “We’ll listen to some music. Just try and relax, and we’ll be there before you know it.”

Oswald hated listening to the radio with his parents. For a nine year old boy, it was torture. The dial never left the Oldies station on the AM band. Even worse, they somehow knew the lyrics to every track that came on, often enticing them to burst into song at high volume.

The booming voice of the disc jockey seemed to fill car, announcing Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night” as the next tune.

“Honey!” Oswald’s mother gasped and squeezed her husband’s arm. “Remember this?”

“Are you kidding me?” He smiled. “How could I ever forget our first date? Even if you did originally show up just to meet my brother.”

“You stop that!” She smacked his arm, making him laugh so hard that he snorted. “It was your friend Arlene that set it up, as you may recall. Besides, one look at you and I knew it was never going to be between your brother and I.”

“And don’t think he’s not still sore about it.”

“Well, it all worked out for the best.” She leaned in and kissed her husband on the cheek, tracing light circles on his neck with her finger.

Oswald groaned and pretended to vomit.

His mother looked back at him and smirked. “Sorry, sweetie. You’ll understand one day.”

“I’m so bored!” Oswald whined. “Are we ever going to get there?”

“Here,” his father said, pressing a button on the dashboard. A panel dropped down above Oswald, exposing a sunroof. “Why don’t you recline your chair and lay back. You can look outside and watch the planes go by.”

“Fine,” Oswald grumbled. He turned the plastic black dial at the side of his seat until he was positioned flat on his back.

“That’s my boy,” his father said.

Oswald stared up at the murky sky through the glass. The blanket of gray clouds was so thick that it appeared still and endless. There was nothing to look at. No planes flying by to make believe were space shuttles returning from a mission to mars. There weren’t even any seagulls overhead to take aim at with his trusty invisible light zapper.

As Oswald continued to observe, he noticed a discoloration in the sky; a patch of clouds much darker—almost black—than the rest. The longer he kept his eyes on it, the more it appeared to contort and take shape.

“Mom? Dad?” Oswald said, almost in a whisper. “Do you see that?”

His parents did not hear him over the sound of their harmonized singing to the radio. Oswald was panicked, but could not tear his eyes away from the spot. He was afraid to even blink.

The darkened clouds began to take form. Oswald could see it clearly, the outline of a massive skeleton peering down from the heavens right at him. He squeezed the vinyl armrests beneath his sweaty palms.

“Mom? Dad?” He called out, his voice more shaky this time.

The skeleton’s giant mandible flapped up and down as though speaking, but Oswald could not hear what it was saying. His eyes stung and leaked fluid out the corners. The skeleton moved a leg, making its bony shell visible as it poked through the clouds. Oswald shut his eyes and squeezed them tight. He did not want to see any more.

“Mom! Dad!” He shouted.

Oswald’s cry startled his father. The car swerved toward the shoulder before he could correct it and regain control. His father took a deep breath and centered the car back in the lane.

“What on earth is the matter?” His mother asked, placing a hand over her heart.

“Look!” Oswald said, pointing up at the sky.

His mother leaned forward to look up through the windshield. “What am I looking at, sweetie?”

“What? You don’t see it?”

“All I see are clouds, Ozzie.”

Oswald cautiously opened his eyes, one at a time. He peeked out the sunroof through slits, no longer seeing the skeleton figure from before. He opened his eyes wider, but still saw nothing.

“I don’t understand. It was there!” Oswald returned his seat to an upright position. “I saw it!”

“Saw what?” His father asked.

“The thing in the sky! The skeleton!”

His parents exchanged glances and grinned.

“Perhaps you just fell asleep, Ozzie?” His mother said. “You were probably dreaming.”

“I wasn’t, though.” Oswald rubbed his eyes with his fists. “I know I was awake. I saw it!”

“Well, I don’t know what to tell you, sweetheart.” His mother reached back to pat him on the leg. “There’s nothing there now.”

“You know what I’ll bet it was, Oz?” His father said. “You know how if you stare at the patterns on the ceiling long enough they start to turn into faces? That’s probably what happened with the clouds. With your imagination, you just made the boring old clouds turn into something more interesting to look at.”

“You think?” Oswald scratched his head.

“I’d bet money on it.” He winked at his son in the rearview mirror.

That explanation made sense to Oswald. He remembered a time when he had stayed home sick from school with his mother, and had stared at her chair for so long that it appeared to be rocking on its own. He had given himself a good scare over it, but learned a lesson about tricks the human brain can sometimes play.

The car passed a blue road sign that said GAS NEXT RIGHT. Oswald’s father flipped the turn signal and took an exit off the freeway.

“Here we are, buddy,” his father said. “When we get to the station I’ll give you some money to run in and buy some batteries while I fill up the tank. Sound good?”

“Thanks, dad.”

“And then, on to Longview!” His mom said, shaking her fist in celebration.

As the car approached a traffic signal at a quiet intersection, Oswald turned around in his seat to look out the back window. He saw the giant skeleton in the sky. Its fingers poked through the clouds and pushed them far enough apart to stick its head through the opening. Jade embers burned in its eye sockets as it cocked its head to the side and locked on to Oswald.

The car came to a stop. Oswald held his breath. A warm, damp sensation enveloped the front of his pants. The skeleton reached an arm out and waved goodbye as the light turned green and their car sped away.

Short Story: Oil Change

INTRODUCTION: Here in Oregon City, we have a fifteen year old phenom named Brendan Swogger. He’s a high school student with a passion for writing dark and twisted stories that rivals my own. He recently wrote a short story based upon on idea that came to him during a visit to the dentist. I don’t know what type of dentist Brendan goes to, but the end result wound up being something straight out of the movie Saw.

I had an idea. In order to help stimulate a budding young mind, I presented Brendan with a writing exercise. If he could concoct such a deliciously devilish story based on something as routine as a trip to the dentist, I wondered how he would do with something even more mundane, such as waiting on an oil change. I submitted my challenge to Brendan, and he had responded with a completed story within a couple of hours. You can read Brendan’s story Acid Eyes here.

It wouldn’t have been fair of me to make Brendan do this challenge alone, so I decided that I would take part in the same exercise. Below is my offering. Happy reading!

Oil Change

Brendan Huntley leaned in through the rolled down car window and kissed his wife on the lips.

“You’re sure you don’t need me to stay and wait with you?” she asked.

“No, honey. I’ll be fine.” He smiled and stroked her cheek with the tip of his finger. “I’ll be home in just a little bit.”

“Okay, if you’re sure.” She took her foot off the brake, letting the car roll forward a few inches before bringing it to a stop again. “Oh, and you have your keys just in case you beat me back home?”

“Yes, dear.” Brendan patted his pants pocket. “Go on. I’m fine.”

Brendan’s wife blew him a kiss and drove away. Brendan stood and waved, watching until her car became a tiny speck in the distance. He turned to face the mechanic’s garage, surprised to find all the bay doors closed. He checked his watch.

12:54 p.m.

They said to be here at one o’clock, he thought. Maybe they’re not quite back from lunch.

Brendan approached the main entrance and placed his hands on the glass to block out the sunlight as he peeked in. The door was unlocked and pushed open. He stepped inside the building and found the lobby unoccupied. There was no one behind the counter either.

Brendan heard voices. A TV in the corner of the waiting area was playing clips from NBC sitcoms at low volume.

“Hello?” Brendan called out.

A man entered from the garage through a swinging door, wiping his hands clean with an oil-covered rag.

“Can I help you?” The man slipped the dirty rag into the back pocket of his navy blue coveralls, then grabbed a toothpick tucked behind his ear and put it in his mouth.

“Hi, I’m Brendan Huntley.” Brendan reached out to shake the man’s hand, but he just stared at it, chewing on the toothpick between his front teeth. Brendan retracted his hand. “I’m here to pick up my car. It’s the red two thousand seven Kia Rio. You guys told me it would be ready at one o’clock.”

The man mashed a few buttons on the keyboard without looking down at the screen. “Doesn’t look like its ready yet. Why don’t you take a seat and wait a few minutes while I go check on your vehicle.”

“Uh…” Brendan glanced down at his watch. “Well, do you have an estimate on how much longer it’s going to be?”

“Sir, if you can just wait for a few minutes, I’m sure it won’t be much longer.” The man scratched the back of his slick, black hair. “I’ll go check on it now.” The man exited back through the swinging door. The words EMPLOYEES ONLY were stenciled in bright yellow paint.

Brendan walked into the lobby and took a seat on a plush, leather chair with a chrome frame. He looked around at several displays of car parts, but could only recognize the windshield wiper blades. He leaned forward and sifted through a pile of magazines on the table in front of him. The covers of periodicals such as Mopar Monthly and Gearhead were adorned with slender women in short shorts making love to the camera while holding metallic cylinders up to their mouths.

Maybe it’s a car guy thing, he thought. Or I’m too old to find this type of thing appealing.

The crashing sound of steel spilling onto cement came from the direction of the garage, causing Brendan to drop the stack of magazines in his hands. The noise was quickly followed by a bloodcurdling male scream.

Brendan sprang to his feet and ran toward the front counter. He was met by the same toothpick chewing mechanic from before. The man entered the room with complete calmness, leaning against the door with his hands behind his back.

“My Lord! Is everything all right out there?”

“Yes, sir. Everything is fine.” The man slid his toothpick from one corner of his mouth to the other. “Just a little accident.”

“A little accident?” Brendan rubbed his forehead. “You about gave me a heart attack! I heard a scream and I…”

A spatter of blood across the chest of the mechanic’s coveralls caught Brendan’s attention and stopped him mid-sentence. He didn’t remember seeing it on the man before.

“Are you bleeding?” Brendan pointed at the man’s chest. “Do you need me to call an ambulance?”

The man looked down at his coveralls, then wiped off the blood with his bare hand.

“That won’t be necessary, sir. Like I said, we just had a little accident. Happens all the time.” The mechanic grinned.” It’s a… hazard of the job, you could say.”

“Oh… okay. So, about my car?”

“Right. The o-seven red Kia Rio. Let me just go grab the keys for you. Please, have a seat and I’ll be right with you.” The mechanic once again left Brendan alone in the lobby.

Brendan took a deep breath to regulate his pulse, then sat back down as instructed. A few minutes of silence passed before the slow whine of a hydraulic lift filled the lobby.

“No! No! No!” a voice begged from the other side of the employee only door, followed by a deafening crunch.

Brendan stood up and walked over to the counter slowly. The mechanic re-entered the room, accompanied by the sound of his shoe soles sticking to the tile surface with each step. His face, hands and the upper portion of his coveralls coated with droplets of crimson.

“Oh my God!” Brendan’s mouth dropped open as his face went pale. “Is that…?”

“No, sir. A carburetor exploded on us out there. Spewed fuel all over the place.” The mechanic pulled the rag out from his back pocket and wiped his face. “We’ll be mopping up that mess for days.”

“I’m sorry. I feel so foolish now.” Brendan put his hand over his heart as color began returning to his cheeks. “I’m not much of a car guy, so I have no idea what all goes into what you guys do. Sounds pretty intense, though.”

“It sure is, but once you have the love for the job, it gets easier over time.” The mechanic reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of keys. “Your vehicle is parked outside and ready to go, sir.”

“Great! Thank you very much.” Brendan reached for his wallet. “So, what do I owe you?”

“No charge today, sir. On the house.”

“What?” Brendan furrowed his brow. “That can’t be right.”

“I promise, sir. It’s right. It’s a… a repeat customer special.”

“Wow. I, uh, I don’t know what to say.” Brendan put his wallet back into his pocket, then collected his keys from the mechanic’s moist, grime-covered fingers.

“No need to say anything, sir. Have a great day.”

Brendan headed for the door. He stopped and turned back as he reached the exit. “Say, I don’t believe that I caught your name. I’d like to tell your manager how happy I am with the star treatment that you’ve given me today.”

“Me, sir?” The mechanic pushed open the swinging door halfway and stood in the threshold. “I don’t work here.”