Short Story Of the Day, A Thousand Unnatural Shocks by Bill Chance

“You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.”
Cormac McCarthy,
No Country for Old Men

Nasher Sculpture Center
Dallas, Texas

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#28). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 


A Thousand Unnatural Shocks

Buford knew it was going to be a bad day but he didn’t think it would be this bad.

He woke up to the daylight streaming through his window. It was cloudy and he couldn’t tell what time it was. His wife was nowhere to be found and the alarm clock was flashing twelves. By the time he dressed, the thunderstorm that had cut the power while he slept kicked in again and he ran through the rain to find his front left tire flat. Buford had to stretch out in the dirty cold water in the gutter to slip the jack underneath and was soaked by the time he had the tire changed.

At work, his badge didn’t operate the rotary door and he had to stand in the cold drizzle while the security guard called human resources. He knew something especially awful was happening when the HR woman had the guard escort him to an obscure conference room after letting him in. On the table was a cardboard box with all the personal stuff from his cubicle.

Apparently, they had found the irregularities in his petty cash account.

On the way home, someone turned left in front of him and made him swerve. He hit a light pole with his right fender. Buford was able to back out and continue on, but a cop gave him a ticket a block farther for his broken headlight and expired inspection sticker.

Back home, he discovered that the dog had pulled over the trash can and spread garbage throughout the house. The dog also fished out and ate last night’s leftovers and vomited them up on the couch. After cleaning the mess as best he could he put his dirty, wet clothes into the washing machine. On the rinse cycle, the hot water hose burst, flooding the utility room and kitchen and scalding Buford as he had to use a wrench to shut off the balky valve.

Deciding he had better not try and do anything else for the rest of the day, Buford turned on the television and settled in his easy chair to watch. He was admiring the vase of fresh flowers his wife had placed above the set when the dog chased the cat into the living room. The cat leaped on top of the television, knocking the vase over. The water spilled and trickled into the circuitry of the television. With a sharp spark and a bang, it went dark. A column of rancid smoke rose from the back, a breaker tripped and the room went dark.

Buford did not dare budge; he sat there in the gloom, motionless, until Camille, his wife, came home.

————————————

He heard the keys jangling merrily in the lock.

“Why is it so dark in here?” Camille asked as she walked briskly through the room.

“Blown breaker.”

“Well, I’ll reset it then.” Buford cringed when he heard the click and the lights came on, expecting a fire or explosion. But it was his wife, after all, that threw the switch, so nothing bad happened.

“How was your day, dear?” she asked. “Not too horrible, I hope?”

“Worse than ever,” he replied. “For one thing, I lost my job.”

“No worries.” Camille answered. “I bought a lottery ticket on the way out this morning. Ten grand scratch-off winner.” She tossed a thick envelope on the coffee table.

“So your day was good?” asked Buford.

“Of course it was; you know the drill.”

Camille reached into her pocket and removed a small object. It was a crude statue, made from some mottled mudstone, of a small distorted human-like figure of extreme ugliness. The troll-like character was leering into space and holding a tiny, crimson, transparent jewel – clutching it in both arms. Camille carefully placed the sculpture onto a sturdy wooden stand on the mantelpiece. Though diminutive and unattractive, it had a quality about it that commanded attention. Both Buford and Camille, husband and wife, stood for a minute or two, as they did most days when the charm was put back in its place, and thought about the day they had acquired it.

————————————

They were on the Mayan Coast of Mexico, on a bargain package vacation Camille had won at a company bingo game. Their cut-rate guide had been drinking and became lost; then his rattle-trap jeep had broken down in an unknown village. Buford and Camille had been sniping and griping, each blaming the other for the disastrous vacation.

The village was strangely devoid of the beggars and con-men that had been haunting them all trip and the pair was walking the street in search of some establishment that looked like it had clean ice so they could get something cold to drink when a strange old man approached them and spoke in almost perfect English.

“Ah, we don’t get so many tourists in our little town.”

“Well, you’re a long way off the beaten track.”

“That’s true, not so many are as lucky as you.”

“I wouldn’t say we were lucky. Not at all.”

The old man stared at them for a minute, and then continued.

“Well, I have something here for you, and I guarantee you’re luck is going to change.”

Now that he thought about it, Buford realized that the old man didn’t say their luck would change for the better, only that it would change. And he had not been lying.

The old man offered up the little statue, the strange charm. Buford wanted to walk away, but Camille took the charm in her hand and stared into its jewel. From that point, they had no choice, she had to have it. The price was high, but not too high and Buford peeled a thick layer of bills off the roll he kept hidden in a pocket sewn into his waistband.

But the old man wasn’t finished. He talked about the charm and how it would bring good luck to whoever carried it.

“But, there’s a catch,” he said.

“Isn’t there always,” replied Buford. He was doubtful, but there was something about that ugly little statue that commanded interest. “This isn’t some sort of Monkey’s Paw, is it?”

“No not at all.” Buford was surprised the old man knew the reference. “It works, but you have to remember that the amount of luck in the world is finite. The charm gives out good luck, but it takes it from other places, usually nearby.”

And that is how it worked. It didn’t take long to figure out that whichever one of them would carry the charm would have fantastic things happen to them. But it would always be at the expense of the other. You could manipulate things a little, for example, by not taking any extra risks if you didn’t have the charm, but things still seemed to work out. The better that one did, the worse the other.

They tried switching every day, but that was too ragged… the bad luck would overtake the good. They had settled on three days. Camille would get it for three days, placing it in the stand on the mantle every night (they were afraid what the charm might do while they slept) and then Buford would get it for the same length of time.

It worked out for a while, but now everything seemed to be spinning out of control. The charm was working better and better, but the downsides were getting worse and worse.

————————————

“Why do you get the charm tomorrow?” asked Buford. “It isn’t fair. It was horrible today.”

“You need to do what I do, dear. When you have the charm, I stay in bed all day. Not too much bad can happen that way.”

“You know I can’t do that. I can’t stay still all day; I have to do something… anything. I’ll go crazy otherwise… and that’s when it gets so bad. I think I should have it…. I really need it tomorrow.”

“Now, you know that’s not what we agreed on.”

“But it’s not fair!”

“Come on dear, “ Camille said, ending the discussion, “It’s time for bed. Don’t be so upset, tomorrow’s another day.”

————————————

At three in the morning, after hours of tossing and turning and being awakened from a restless half-sleep by Camille’s incessant snoring, Buford gave up, climbed out of bed and walked into the living room. There he looked at the charm on the mantelpiece and how it seemed to glow with a faint green aura in the moonlight.

“There is no way I can get through another day like today,” Buford said to himself. And he decided to act.

He knew he needed all the advantages he could get so he took the charm down and slipped it into his pocket. Then he opened the small metal safe at the bottom of the hall closet and carefully loaded the handgun. Holding it out in front, he returned to the bedroom and the uneven drone of Camille’s snores.

“I’m sorry dear, but this is not going to be your lucky day,” he said to his wife’s sleeping form as he raised the weapon.

 

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