It’s a winner! Okay, not a winner-winner, per say. But, out of over 4,200 short stories, only 625 advanced to the second round. And that, my dear readers, is a win in my book.
Recently, I participated in the NYC Midnight Short Story contest. For those of you who are not familiar, NYC Midnight provides a genre, subject or location, character, and word count at 11:59pm on Thursday evening. For this first round we had 8 days to submit a short story.
My assignment: genre = comedy, character = a thrill seeker, and subject = a eulogy (I think they make the genres/subject/character purposely unrelated, to see what type of creative spin a writer will go with).
Little Miss Procrastination here decided to drag her feet and didn’t start writing until the following weekend. Lovely. One and a half days to write, edit, and submit a 2,500 word count short story. I didn’t feel too great about the story when I hit that ‘submit’ button. The piece was full of grammatical errors and for a comedy, well, I didn’t think it was too funny. More importantly, however, the judges thought it was funny and this baby earned my way into round number two of the contest. (That story to follow.) Enjoy!
The Adventures of Taryn and Callie
The heavy wooden doors of the church swung open, illuminating Taryn in the doorway. A slight breeze played with the ends of her long blond hair, the sunshine highlighting every strand. Taking a deep breath, she took a cursory look around the cathedral, threw her shoulders back, and stepped inside. Her next steps proved to be much less graceful and determined as the heel of her black pump caught on the edge of a floor tile. Taryn took several wobbly steps forward and staggered to keep her balance.
“Whoa there, girl,” Callie stated, grabbing Taryn by the arm and steadying her on her feet. Both girls giggled, leaning into each other.
“Damn heels,” Taryn whispered under her breath. “Do we smell like booze?” Taking an unstealthily look right then left, Taryn cupped her right hand over her mouth, exhaled deeply, and then smelled her breath.
“Taryn, you are so nasty! And are you seriously blaming your clumsiness on the heels?” Callie laughed. While both girls lived an adventurous life, Taryn’s bumps and bruises were mostly due to her inability to remain upright on flat ground. Sober or not.
Taryn rolled her eyes and batted off Callie’s nickname before she had the chance to say it. “You weren’t calling me Clutz when I nailed that swan dive off of the 60-foot cliff at Malibu Creek last month.”
“Yeah, but how many times did you fall before making it to the jump?”
“I hate your face, Callie,” Taryn threw a tried and true comeback at her best friend.
Taryn and Callie were introduced in the 6th grade by a mutual friend. Initially, Taryn literally hated Callie’s face. Callie was a small girl with sharp blue eyes, freckles, and pointy white teeth, her characteristics all fighting for the role of distinguishing feature. Her sense of humor and lack of regard for authority had finally won Taryn over and they quickly became the best of friends.
With each passing year, the girls came to the realization that they had both been handed shit lives. Taryn’s foster parents were only concerned with what she could do for them. By the time Taryn was twelve, she was proficient in laundry, house cleaning, meal prep, and caring for her younger foster siblings. The only thing left was getting a job to support the family and there weren’t many establishments hiring a mouthy, unorganized child in those days.
Callie wasn’t born into much better. While Taryn’s foster mother looked at her like she was a paycheck, Callie’s mother looked at her oldest daughter as if she we were her competition. Her mother loathed Callie’s relationship with her father, often times making wild accusations regarding the nature of their father-daughter bond. Her and her siblings were pitted against each other, all fighting for what little attention her mother infrequently handed out. Her younger brothers could do no wrong while Callie slowly morphed into the family’s black sheep.
By the time Taryn and Callie were in high school, they had both had taken a slightly wrong turn and were headed down the not so straight and narrow road of life. They bonded over adventures, the inadequacies at home forgotten about with each risk that was taken. At first, the ventures were harmless: skipping school, prank calls, flashing their newly budded breasts at passing cars while walking down the road. During the summer months, the girls would hike the long service road that ran behind Callie’s house to take turns jumping off the old railroad trestle that ran over the city lake.
Before long, however, their thrill-seeking took a risky and dangerous turn. They dared each other to drive stark naked through the drive-thru of the local Burger King. They raced their cars down gravelly county roads at high rates of speed. On any given weekend, the two could be found chucking stolen beers out of the back door of some random party that they had crashed. They flirted with drugs, promiscuity, and were drunk for the better part of their high school years.
Somehow surviving their teens, Callie and Taryn rolled into their twenties high on life and their new found freedom. They escaped the clutches of their hometown and found a cheap apartment in Austin, Texas. Both started bartending, their paychecks covering rent and the bare essentials, with most of their money budgeted towards their next escapade. By the time the two were twenty-five, they had been white-water rafting on Lava Falls through the Grand Canyon, sky-diving over Key West, and swimming with great white sharks in Guadalupe.
The line into the church started shuffling forward, and the girls quickly ducked into the second to last pew.
“What a drag,” Callie breathed.
“Yeah, well, I don’t think funerals are supposed to be a party, Callie.” Taryn glared at an eavesdropping older man sitting next to her. When he wouldn’t look away, she blew him a kiss. Pink tinged the old man’s cheeks as he dropped his head and scooted down the pew away from the girls. As the rest of the visitors filed in and took their seats, the girls started their habitual people watching and playful banter.
“Oh shit, Callie! Isn’t that Eric “Ear Wax” Murphy!?” Taryn questioned, pointing across the church to a sniffling, beast of a man who had been reduced to a snotty, weeping mess.
“Ah, yes,” Callie revealed. “What a shame. Smoking hot, great in bed, but the damn ear wax… Nope. I could not handle seeing that on a daily basis.” Callie glanced around the cathedral. “And is that none other than Chewbacca three rows up?” Callie snickered, pointing out one of Taryn’s ex-boyfriends who had earned the nickname because of his unnatural bedroom noises.
“Ha!” Taryn belted out, causing several funeral-goers to throw glares and shushes her way. As if in response, Canon in D began to play over the loudspeakers and the murmuring throughout the church began to taper off.
“At least they got something right,” Callie said to Taryn and closed her eyes. “My Zen.” A hush fell over the church as the cello instrumental danced its way throughout the cathedral. As the music ended, a priest stood up to the pulpit and began his sermon.
The man was older, his age most apparent by the few wisps of hair he had left on his balding head. He was thin, with a slight hunch of his shoulders that gave him a Mr. Burns from the Simpson’s appeal. His voice was nasally, yet monotone, drawing attention from what was spoken and emphasizing instead how it was spoken. Callie and Taryn snickered behind hymn books and it took everything in their power not to burst out laughing at the man.
As the priest finished his sermon, he called up to the pulpit a short, round woman, with Callie’s baby blue eyes and slightly upturned nose. She began recalling a memory that no one else in the church could seem to remember, but her performance was effective. The woman had several outbursts of uncontrollable sobbing, but was somehow able to immediately regain her composure and plaster on a Cheshire Cat-like smile before beginning to speak again. The crowd ate her up, answering with their own outpourings of tears and noses being blown into handkerchiefs. The woman’s story droned on and on, and was peppered with way too many ‘I’s’ and ‘my’s’. With each word that the woman spoke, Callie huffed and puffed and shifted in her seat.
“Oh, gawd.” Callie rolled her eyes and threw her hands up in the air. “ A funeral , for shit’s sakes?! She will use any excuse to put herself in the limelight. My mother has sunk to an all-time low with this one.”
“Give her a break, Cal. She seems genuinely upset.” Taryn tilted her head to the side to get a better view around the rather rotund man sitting in front of her.
“Genuinely upset? Seriously, Taryn. Do you not remember the years of hell that woman put me through? She is a self-centered narcissist whose only concern is how she appears to others. She has probably been planning this big performance for years.”
“Ha! Probably. Say Callie, you and all of your brothers and sisters have dark hair. Your dad’s blond and your mom is red-headed. How does that work?”
“My mother has dyed her hair so many times that she probably doesn’t even remember what her real color is. I have only known her with hair in various shades of Bozo the Clown.”
Picturing Callie’s mother dressed like Bozo with three giant blue pom-poms adorning the front of her shirt and massive clown shoes was too much. Before she could help herself, Taryn responded to the image with a loud snort and burst into a fit of hysteria.
“Bwahahahaha!!!” Taryn cackled.
Stunned by the interruption, Callie’s mother stopped mid-sentence, squinted her eyes and peered down the cathedral’s center aisle. “Taryn, darling, is that you?” As if on cue, the entire church swiveled in their seats and turned to look at Taryn. It was one fluid movement, like the whole damn church choreographed the move. “Honey,” Callie’s mother continued, “would you like to come up and say a few words?”
“Shit,” Taryn swore under her breath. “Care to help me out of this one Cal?” Taryn turned to her best friend who was no longer in the seat next to her.
Taking an unsteady breath, Taryn put her hands on the pew in front of her and slowly stood up. Every pair of eyes in the cathedral was trained on her as she made her way to the front of the room. As she reached the pulpit, Callie’s mother glared down at Taryn and muttered directly to her. “Got all eyes on you now, don’t you sweetie?” Turning her attention back to the crowd, Callie’s mother spoke into the microphone, “ladies and gentleman, this is Taryn Green. She was Callie’s best friend and would like to say a few words.” Climbing out from behind the pulpit, Callie’s mom placed her hand on Taryn’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze, a little harder than was required, and made her way back to her seat in the front pew.
Taryn took her place behind the pulpit and did an obligatory tap on the microphone. A loud screech echoed through the loudspeakers, causing many people to cover their ears.
“Um, uh, sorry about that. I’ve never been asked to give a eulogy before,” Taryn began. The priest, who was sitting on a chair behind the pulpit, leaned towards Taryn and whispered something about speaking from the heart.
“Well, um. What can I say about Callie? She was a fucking badass!” Taryn began.
“Language please, young lady,” Mr. Burns scolded her from behind.
“What? Oh, yeah, sorry. Um, Callie… We met in junior high, and while we didn’t hit it off at first, I grew to love that girl like nobody else. Callie didn’t have the easiest time growing up,” Taryn glanced over at Callie’s mom who was shifting uncontrollably in her seat. Taryn continued, “but if anyone could make the best out of a shit sandwich, Callie could.” Taryn threw an apologetic glance towards the priest. “I’ve known Callie for over 17 years. There is no one with a bigger heart and thirst for adventure. And boy, oh boy, did we have some great adventures.” Taryn’s eyes glossed over as she silently recollected their friendship and the fun that that had over the years.
“Young lady?” The priest ripped her out of her memory and back to reality.
“Huh? Oh yeah. All I can say is that Callie died doing what she loved. Well, I wouldn’t say that choking on trail mix necessarily counts as something Callie loved, but we were in a climb of the decade, and that counts for something, doesn’t it?” Taryn directed her question to everyone and no one in particular. “Anyway, that’s all I have to say about that.” Taryn chuckled as she quoted her and Callie’s favorite line from Forrest Gump and stepped down from the pulpit.
Making her way down the aisle of the cathedral, Taryn was careful not to talk to the memory of her best friend until she was out of the church.
“Not complaining or anything, Callie, but if you keep hanging around, they are going to lock me away in the loony bin.”
Callie’s laughter rang out like a bell. Or maybe it was the church bells, Taryn couldn’t be for certain. “Now wouldn’t that be an adventure, huh Taryn?”