Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction), Backpack by Bill Chance

“The world says: “You have needs — satisfy them. You have as much right as the rich and the mighty. Don’t hesitate to satisfy your needs; indeed, expand your needs and demand more.” This is the worldly doctrine of today. And they believe that this is freedom. The result for the rich is isolation and suicide, for the poor, envy and murder.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov


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 (#44). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


The Backpack


For ten years, Ricardo Zenon rode the train to work every day. He knew every foot of that track like the inside of his eyelids.

The elevated tracks ran above a shady stretch of sad squalor and forlorn misery – rundown store strips and cracked asphalt. He would look out on that world like it was served up for his own amusement.

It was not unusual to see police lights or hear the faint echo of a siren through the thick train window glass, but one morning went beyond that. The grimy parking lot of a building housing a grimy Chinese Restaurant, a Cellphone store, and a place that sold discount cigarettes was filled with cop cars and an angry looking clump of police. They were all focused on a couple of scared looking teenagers being cuffed.

Zenon only had a quick look at this drama as the train sped by. He marked the details in his memory as best he could. He figured it was a drug bust. It must have been a big one to draw that many police and all those vehicles.

So if it was a drug bust, it didn’t look like the cops had what they wanted. Even in the split second he could see their faces, the police didn’t look happy, didn’t look satisfied, even though they had caught the two kids. They looked more frustrated than angry. They hadn’t found what they were after.

And there was something else. He had looked at that same scene for so long, even a tiny anomaly would stick out. There, on the roof, next to a dingy air conditioner, was a backpack. It was a standard backpack, black, up on the roof, not too far from the edge where the cops were cuffing the two scofflaws.

He was certain that it wasn’t there before.

Zenon started to tell the folks at work about the backpack, but he choked off his talk. He realized he was keeping it a secret because he wanted it to himself.

It was obvious, he thought. The bag had to be full of either drugs, cash… or probably both. The kids must have thrown it up there at the last second, when they realized the jig was up but before the police closed in. That’s why the cops had seemed so frustrated.

“But why haven’t the kids come back to get the bag?” Zenon asked himself in the evening when he was thinking about what to do.

“Because they are still in jail,” he replied to himself.

They won’t be there forever. They’ll make bail. If he wanted to get the thing, he had better do it soon.

He looked for some way to get up onto the roof. He spotted a utility pole, a fence, and a piece of conduit high up in the air that he could use. He could climb the fence, work over on the conduit, and fall down onto the roof.

He was so excited he couldn’t think of anything else. He could pull it off.  He planned, bought supplies, and that night, after the stores all closed, he was ready.

He knew it would be dark, but he hadn’t realized that it would be this dark… pitch dark. But he was prepared – he had brought light sticks. He gave one a twist and a shake and the green glow popped out. The fence looked ugly and intimidating up close – but he knew he would be able to climb it.

Now, with his eyes used to the darkness and the light stick illuminating the darker corners, Zenon moved over to where the fence ran between the building and the pole. His feet slipped on something and he looked down at a layer of cigar wrappers. People had been buying those cheap cigars at the tobacco store and unwrapping and pulling the tobacco out of them here and leaving the trash piled on the ground.

It disgusted him.

The fence looked rustier and dirtier up close than it did from the train. Again, he was prepared – he had put on a pair of tight-fitting leather gloves to protect his hands. He took a deep breath to bolster his courage, grabbed the wire firmly, and began to climb.

He began to climb slowly, trying to brace himself against the splintery wooden pole. He hadn’t climbed anything other than a mall escalator in thirty years and it was harder than he thought it would be.

His fingers, arms, and legs were screaming in pain and his lungs burning with effort and stress as he reached the conduit that ran from the pole onto a structure over the roof.

Wrapping one hand into the wire for strength, he pulled out two more light sticks. Cracking and shaking one, he threw it out onto the roof of the store, giving him a goal to shoot for. The second he threw harder and farther, hoping to illuminate the object he was going after. He was lucky, it fell right in the correct spot, and he was able to see the backpack.

And now there he was, in the darkness, holding on to the conduit, ready to shimmy his way across to the roof.

He could feel his heart pounding in his chest as he began to slowly work his way over to the roof, hanging from the rough steel conduit. It began to sag but despite a hideous creaking, it held his weight. Zenon was about halfway across when he felt a tug from the direction he had come like someone was trying to pull him back.

He let out a cry of panic. It was hard to see in the dark. Had someone caught and grabbed him? He tried to yank free, but the pull was strong and in his hysteria one of his hands slipped off the pipe.

Zenon thought he was going to fall. It was a long way down to the trash-strewn concrete behind the store. But his remaining hand clenched with a desperate unwavering grip and he stayed attached, swaying back and forth. When he thought he couldn’t stand any more he heard a sudden metallic sound like a spring rebounding, and he was free. He realized that a loose piece of the fence must have been stuck in his jacket, pulling him back. His swinging jarred it loose.

He regained some strength and moved without thought across the gap and then dropped down onto the roof. He collapsed into a quivering heap on the rough gravel, crying softly as he recovered, realizing that he was not going to fall onto the cruel concrete below.

Finally, he calmed down. He tested his legs and found he was able to walk. Slowly, he moved toward the fading green glow next to the backpack.

Zenon stood staring down at it. It looked different up close.

Finally, he took a deep breath and pulled the last light stick out. Kneeling, he carefully found the zipper, pulled it around, and started to remove the objects within.

There was a newspaper, old and moldy, but still in its flimsy plastic bag. A ziplock with what may have been a sandwich, but now was reduced to a formless lump. Three cans of beer. A ragged T shirt and a pair of wet socks.

And that was it.

He felt like the had been struck in the head. He began to shiver with a renewed panic on top of desperation. It had never crossed his mind that the backpack would not contain anything of value, but also, Zenon realized that in all his careful planning, he had left out one critical step.

He had never thought about how to get down off of the roof.

Nanowrimo Day Five

Ultimate goal – 50,000 words.
Daily goal – 1,667 words
Goal total so far – 8,335 words

Words written today – 1,880

Words written so far – 8,980 words
Words to goal – +645


“Horns sounded from the trapped vehicles on the motorway, a despairing chorus.”
― J.G. Ballard, Crash

1957 Thunderbird

As I committed the other day I am doing Nanowrimo – the National Novel Writing Month this November – writing a 50,000 word (small) novel in a month. Not necessary a good novel, or even a readable novel, but one of 50K words.

Another tough day – was at work for twelve hours and really too tired and shook up to do any writing.

I did it anyway.

Decided on a way to bring Craig, my anti-hero, and Odette, the girl, together.

Snippet of what I wrote:

He called Meridian’s car salesman and negotiated an offer. It was high, but Craig was able to get him down a bit, mostly in order not to raise suspicion. It never looked good to appear too eager.

“I told you that price would become an object.”

“Just want things to be fair, that price is still high enough. One more thing, I’m going to pay in cash.”

“Cash? That’s nuts. Nobody has that amount of cash hanging around.”

“My client does.”

“So does mine. Cash will be fine. What did you say your client did out in California?”

“I didn’t say.”

“Fair enough.”

And that was that. He put together the proper amount and drove it halfway, meeting the dealer at a designated crossroads in the middle of nowhere. The paperwork was signed on the hood of Craig’s rental.

“Well, that’s that,” said Meridian’s agent. “Are you sure you don’t want to put half down and the rest on delivery? That’s how we usually do it.”

“Nope, this is fine.”

“Guess you trust us.”

“Of course, I know where you work, I know where you live, I know where your wife works, I know where your kids go to school.”

A quick, strong shiver went up and down the agent. He had worked for Prime Meridian for a couple decades and knew the kind of man he was dealing with. He walked back to his SUV, opened the back, raised the floor, and put the case of cash in the back, carefully hiding in the space the spare tire used to be. He put everything back the way it was.

Nanowrimo Day Four

Ultimate goal – 50,000 words.
Daily goal – 1,667 words
Goal total so far – 6,667 words

Words written today – 1,722
Words written so far – 7,100 words
Words to goal – +433

Oak Point Nature Preserve

From this picture you would think I was out in the country somewhere, cruising the Great Plains, rather than in the heart of the urban, tony suburb of Plano, Texas.


“I ain’t a Communist necessarily, but I have been in the red all my life.”
― Woody Guthrie

As I committed the other day I am doing Nanowrimo – the National Novel Writing Month this November – writing a 50,000 word (small) novel in a month. Not necessary a good novel, or even a readable novel, but one of 50K words.

This was a tough writing day. Since I was off work, I wanted to really spend some time and maybe double my word count in case I needed a day off this week (which looks awfully busy). But shit happens and a good bit of it did. I managed to write a couple hundred words at lunch and didn’t think I’d be able to get a lot done at night, but I managed to sit down and hammer out my quota.

I’m not to happy with what I wrote, but it is what it is. I wrote the backstory of a new character – I originally intended him to be killed early, but now that I’ve spent so long on his backstory I might keep him around for a while – maybe make him an antagonist. He is a nasty piece of work with an odd name – Prime Meridian.

I started out with the story of how his grandfather, Isaac Meridian, established the start of the family fortune by foreclosing on the misery of the  people of the plains during the great depression and the dust bowl. Too much exposition – but this is Nanowrimo, so I keep typing.

Snippet of what I wrote:

Each little town had its own movie theater, city hall, and carefully tended town square. Every weekend there would be picture shows, dances, and even traveling entertainment – tiny circuses, barnstormers, or small concert orchestras – moving from town to town earning what they could – which was usually enough. People would travel from town to town enjoying the times, making friends.

Nobody ever thought the good times would end. Until they did.

It all happened with horrific speed. The rains stopped. Nobody had understood that the rainy time was the rare exception, not the rule. The land quickly reverted back to what it had always been – a wind-blasted near desert. The crops died and then the soil began to blow. Vast dust clouds began to form as millions of tons of topsoil were blown off barren fields and carried for hundreds of miles.

Walls of dust, moving mountains of dust, shot across the plains, devouring everything in sight. To be hit by this was like walking through a storm of razors. People caught in their own yards would be forced to grope for the doorstep. Cars were forced to a standstill, and no light in the world could penetrate that swirling murk. They lived with the dust, ate it, slept with it, and watched it strip everyone of possessions and the hope of possessions