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FICTION IMPROV 2.0: Golden Anniversary
Note: After I receive random words, names, occupations, and situation from my Facebook Peeps for a fiction improv, I let the mix stew for a few days. The words often will suggest the mood or tone for the piece. In this case, the piece took on a decidedly dark tone. (I am a suspense/thriller writer, after all.) Because of the darkness of the piece, and for personal reasons, I changed one of the names.
The last piece was a short-short story. This one unfolded more like a scene that would open a longer story or even a novel. Who knows? Maybe Max and Betty’s story will wind up part of a larger tale someday.
Enjoy, and let me know what you think in the comments.
2 Names: Max and Betty
1 Occupation: Nurse practitioner
1 Situation: Golden wedding anniversary
5 Random Words (I have to use at least 3): kangaroo, post-apocalyptic, shoelace, flying, and vibrio. (I had to look up vibrio. It’s a type of bacteria associated with foodborne infection, usually from eating undercooked seafood).
* * *
“Hard to believe it’s been fifty years, Betty.” Max set the champagne bottle into his makeshift ice bucket. Just an old Styrofoam cooler, really. “Gotta make do with what we’ve got now.”
He pulled a handkerchief from his overalls and wiped his face; then he eased down into a nearby folding chair.
August in Texas never seemed hotter.
“Crazy time for a picnic, huh?” he said.
Hot wind blew through the tall dry Johnson grass. Max could tell from the rustling sound that a single match could start a fire that would wipe out everything for twenty miles.
Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
Max leaned over and tied his shoelace. “Good thing I saw that,” he said. “Sure enough that thing would have tripped me and sent me flying.”
He smiled at Betty. “That wouldn’t do, would it?”
Max carefully opened the picnic basket—a laundry basket with a towel thrown over the top—and pulled out two plastic tumblers. “Ain’t exactly wine goblets, but it’s the best I could find.”
He took the champagne bottle and winced in pain as his arthritic fingers worked the cork loose. When it finally popped off, a warm spray washed over his face. Max filled both tumblers.
He reached into the basket again and brought out a bouquet of withered roses, wrapped in plastic WalMart bags. “Not very pretty, but they’re the best I could find. Not much grows around here anymore.”
Max put the roses in Betty’s arms, and smiled.
“Fifty years,” he said. “Not many couples make it that long, Old Girl. What is it they call it? Our golden wedding anniversary.”
He drained the tumbler of champagne and blinked back tears.
It had all happened so fast.
Vibrio, they called it. But there was another name, too. A new name they’d given it. He couldn’t remember that one. News people said it mutated, became a plague. He didn’t rightly understand it. All he knew was that it started down at the Gulf coast. You were only supposed to catch it by eating undercooked seafood, but something changed.
Whatever it was started spreading and people started dying.
And they never stopped.
The nurse practitioner hadn’t been by to check on Betty in a couple of months. She was probably gone like the rest of them.
“What is it the young people call it? Post-apocalyptic? I guess that’s where we are now, my love. In a post-apocalyptic world.”
Max drained the second tumbler, and winced. He hated warm Champagne.
“Guess I’d better get back to work.”
Max looked down into the shallow grave.
“Fifty years. We almost made it fifty years.”
Power grid went down a week ago. He had enough gas to keep the generator running a couple more days. Didn’t know what he’d do after that.
Max gently tossed the first shovelful of dirt into Betty’s grave.
A burning August breeze blew once more through tinder-dry Johnson grass.
Max’s chin quivered. “Happy anniversary, my love.”