Winner of the 2006 SNHU Fiction Contest
Come Back Home
by Michael Chadwick
“Do you have change for a dollar?” The man asks me.
“I’m sorry, sir,” I say. “You have to buy something. We have some gun right here.”
I point to the quarter packs.
“Now, it doesn’t make much sense to pay twenty-five to get change. Is there any chance you break this for me?”
I think for a second.
No Sale. Auth code. 2453. Ding.
The man hands me a dollar and I hand him four quarters.
“Bless you, sir. Hello, my name is Olufemi, what is yours?” He looks at my chest. I’m assuming to find a nametag. I don’t wear my nametag. I don’t like people I don’t know knowing my name.
“Jules,” I tell him.
“God has a plan for Olufemi and Jules.” When he talks about Olufemi and Jules, he points at himself and then me, respectively.
“I know a lot about this, I had my confirmation when I was like ten.”
“Oh, so you have Jesus in your heart?”
“Well, I am agnostic now.” I am bored, so why not talk spirituality.
“There are four laws that Olufemi and Jules must understand,” he continues. “If you give a minute, I will show you the creepshow has something to say about it.”Creepshow. Did I just hear him right? I must not have.
He removes the loose gold strap that surrounds his bible, and he opens it. A leather cover that could have been a catcher’s mitt in a previous life binds it. I notice the yellow of faded highlighter marks cover all of a chapter of scripture. Scripture. That’s what he must be saying.
“I felt compelled to talk to you, Jules. I think you need to take Jesus in your heart, because the moment may be at any time.
“What moment?” I ask.
“Everybody has at least one moment in their life where our lord shows himself.”
“What if you don’t believe in him?”
“Oh, he believes in you, Jules.”
“What about the native Americans, or ancient Egyptians? Hell…” Olufemi strikes me a dirty look. “…I’m sorry…” He nods his head with a small smile, acknowledging my apology. “…What about any civilization that came before the arrival of Jesus?”
“What about you, Jules? You know of Jesus, yet you haven’t taken him into your life. You can’t tell our lord that you don’t know about his only begotten son.”
“Um…I don’t know. I guess I have to truly believe, and you can’t force belief.”
I feel a sense of satisfaction knowing I was able to make him pause. I am sure he has heard every reply in the book. Time to end this skirmish before it turns into a bloodbath.
“Not to be a jerk, Olufemi, but I really have to clean this place up.”
“I understand. I will leave you now, Jules. May Jesus be with you.” He wraps up his bible in the band and heads toward the exit. Dodged a bullet.
“Just think of this, Jules.” Olufemi turns to me. “If your way is right, when we die, nothing bad will happen to either of us. But…” He flashes that smile again. “If MY way is right, something bad is gonna happen to one of us. May Jesus be with you.”
Oooo…. he got me.
With Olufemi’s departure, I am alone. It’s quiet when there is no one here.
We are located on a stretch of nothing but strip malls and department stores, and they close at 9:00. Last I checked the clock, it was around 10:30. 30 minutes left. There is nothing as joyful as knowing you have reached the last hour of your shift. It’s even more enjoyable than actually punching out, which is always anticlimactic. I have worked marathon shifts, up to eighteen hours at a time, and no matter how tired I have been, when the digital clock tips to: 01, the celebration can begin. The finish line is in sight. Phyllis is pretty good about being on time, so when she shows up, it’s just a matter of counting the register and be out of here. I just need to mop the floor and…
In the corner of my right eye, I see the door open. Two men wearing ski masks come running in. The tall guy moves to the back by the ice cooler. The short one walks towards me. His hands are in his jacket pockets, but I can only imagine what he is holding on to.
Actually, I don’t need to imagine anymore; he pulls a gun from his right pocket and points it at me.
“You know the drill,” says the gunman. “Get behind the counter and give us the shit.”
He remains motionless with the gun sticking out of his hip. I back away towards the register with my hands in the air.
“Okay…. I’m just going to grab a bag under the register and…..” My eyes gaze at the bags. Now my eyes are drifting to the finger switch directly above…
“JUST DO IT.” He is breathing hard and keeps opening the bottom of his ski mask to let in more stale coffee air.
“I’m sorry….I just wanted to let you know what…”
“RELAX alright,” says Mr. Lookout. “He’s cool. He knows what to do. Right kid?”
I really wish that guy were the one pointing the gun in my face.
“We ain’t got all day….HURRY UP.”
I motion my left arm under the register and grab a paper bag while slowly moving my right arm up in the air. I must be giving the impression I’m trying to feed a lion under the register. I can’t believe in a time like this, such thoughts pass through my mind.
I grab a bag. As I raise my hand I feel it against my index knuckle, and a chill comes over me. That fucking switch. The switch that just five days ago was completely invisible to me is now the largest object in this store. Every single conceivable thought and emotion regarding this moment is crossing my mind at this moment. Man, I hate the hypocrisy of heroism. We are always told to do as we are told, to not make waves. This isn’t my money. The only thing being stolen from me is my pride.
“HURRY UP.” The gunman scratches his neck pink. .
“I’m sorry man, it’s just…”
“ENOUGH of this ‘I’m sorry,’ just hurry up….”
“I’m sorry man, but that gun is freaking me out.” I’m nervous because the gunman’s nervous, and I’m getting the feeling that he is nervous for the opposite reason. This ball of nerves is bouncing back and forth, and is growing more intense as every slow second goes by.
“Hey man, why don’t you stop pointing it at him?”
“I’ll stop pointing it at him when he gives me the money. Now just grab a bag and give me the fucking money.”
No sale. Auth code. 2433. No ding.
No sale. Auth code. 2243. No ding.
No sale. Auth code. 2553. No ding.
“OPEN THE FUCKING DRAWER.”
“I’m sor… I’m sorry…I keep forgetting the code.”
No sale. Auth code. 2443. No ding.
“Aaihh!” I jump back with a girlish scream. He only banged the butt of the gun on the counter. My eyes are directly fixated on the counter. I next hear laughter. I shoot my eyes to the back of the room. Mr. Lookout must’ve found my effeminate reaction humorous.
“Now hurry up,” the gunman says, “because the next one counts.”
I pause for a second and collect myself, as there is nothing in this world I want more than for him to stop pointing that gun at me.
No sale. Auth code. 220.127.116.11. Ding.
The short guy sticks his free arm over the counter and grabs the money from each tray, first 20’s then 10’s, then 5’s, then 1’s, and drops it in the bag.
“Here you go, no please…..”
“Give me that. Don’t tell me what to do”, the gunman takes a step back and fully extends his shooting arm and points the gun steady and firm in front of my face.
“Look at me.”
“Will you cut it out, man?” Mr. Lookout says.
“Look at me.”
I raise my head and stare down the gun. At this moment, there is nothing I love more than life. And my mother.
“I said look at me.”
I do as he tells me and for the first time see the gunman’s brown eyes. The pale skin under his right eye contrasts sharply with the black ski mask.
I just want to go home.
“We’ll see you around,” the gunman tells me matter-of-factly. He rushes out to the side entrance where he came in. I keep looking straight ahead.
“Hey, guy, where are you parked?” Mr. Lookout asks me.
“Right over there, the Duster,” I nod my head over to the back window of the store. I feel the tears falling fast down my cheeks, where they abruptly stop before dropping off my cheekbone, like suicidal skiers. There are windows and bright lights everywhere, to prevent robberies. I slowly put my hand in my right pocket and grab my keys, knowing the inevitable is about to happen.
“Cool. Do you want us to drop some money by your car?”
At that moment, I no longer fear the robbery that just took place.
And with that, he runs off. I drop my head so I don’t see where they run off. I don’t want to know any more about what just happened. All I hear is the buzzing of refrigerators.