A Short Story Challenge

Reviews can be the scariest thing about sharing your passion. What if they hate what you’ve done? What if you’re not as good as you hope you are? What if I actually suck?

The following is a fictional short story created for a writing challenge. When the challenge began, is when we found out what we would be writing. We were told it was a Political Satire with the subject Side by Side and our character is a Steel Worker. With a 2500 word maximum, we were instructed to create. It was a challenge unlike any I’d ever done.

After the story, you’ll be able to read the reviews by the judges to see if you agree with them, or not. Though I am not advancing within the competition, I’m not disappointed with myself. These reviews are not crushing. Both good and bad, those reviews are igniting my already bright flame!

“I Didn’t Vote for This”

The light of the rising sun is blocked out by heavy curtains in my bedroom. This time in the morning when neither the world nor me are quite awake is the best moment of the day! The On-switch hasn’t yet been hit. The fuzzy warmth of the fleece sheets caresses my skin. I hate the heat, so I don’t know why I have these. But the cool morning air on my exposed back is bliss as it competes with the warmth of the covers over my lower half. My arms hug the plush pillow my face is nestling deep into. Absolute bliss!

The alarm on my phone sounds out, far too loud no matter how soft the selected song was last night. So, I glare ineffectually at it. The past hour I’ve been enjoying the peace as well as the darkness of my room. It hasn’t been enough time. Why am I forced to work so much just to survive? Reaching out, it’s me who has to turn off the noise. Me because, like every morning, I sleep alone. Which is depressing if I think about it.

And so, my day begins. Again.

Wash the face. Brush the teeth. An attempt at grooming might as well be made. Breakfast bolted down as I brew a cup for the commute. Lunch in the bag; a hasty gathering of edible morsels because the effort was too great last night. In the car. Crank the music! Belt it out like I’m on stage and don’t suck.

The same old commute because I’m not changing what is the shortest route which allows me to leave at the last possible moment every morning. Same songs because I’m a creature of habit and I like what I like. The same parking spot because…

The muttered expletive is justified. Is this a sign for today? Fingers tap the steering wheel as a new spot is selected. It’s fine. This is fine. And the long walk up the street is made. My coworkers are doing the same. We wave greetings and give the usual one-liners: great day for a walk, isn’t it? Cogs get street parking, not parking lot parking. Think we’re gonna have to double-fist it today! The double entendre is said while holding up the travel mug. We smile and return the usual responses because that’s just what we do.

Inside at the lockers, we remove our everyday gear and replace it with certified PPE. Steel-toes, safety vests, hardhats, goggles, gloves, aprons. The list can go on depending on which section you worked. By now, it’s all just rote. Or is it route that’s the right word? Root has to be wrong. Right? As that irritating nugget rolls about, I head out of the locker room in file with the others.

Despite petty disagreements and good-natured needling, we’re a team; me, Win, Mac, Ace, and Al. We’re people that shouldn’t get along but do. I’m an artist and bit of a loner. In his forties Win seems to have forgotten what it is to have fun; God help me if I ever turn out like him. Ace is all about the fun which seems exhausting to me. Mac only exists to compete; equally as exhausting. And Al is capable of great speeds, but only when something grabs his interest. Get the hell out of the way when that happens.

Yet, we jive well working side by side. Different people with different views, we still find a way to make us work. Have for the past five years, which is probably why we’re still willing to hang out after each long and tiring week. Or maybe we do simply because who else is going to understand what we go through here each week? Could be that we are lazy and finding friends outside of work is too much work. But I did kind of like that these guys understood me better than my own family.

Time slips by almost unnoticed. Probably because our inane chatter eases the pain of its passing.

“Damn it girl, let’s go already!”

I knew I was being addressed because I was the only woman on this crew. Happy to set work aside, I follow the others across the floor.

“Dev,” my name being called out has my fleeting attention, “what’s for lunch?”

“Nothing good,” is the standard reply. “You?”

This is Mac’s way of one-upping everyone. No matter how good your lunch could be, his is better and you’re going to know it because even if it’s standard, in Mac’s eyes it’s still superior to anything you have.

“My wife…” He has a wife. “…made the best pot roast last night.”

Lifting his head up from the game on his phone, Al chimes in, “why pot? Is it made in a pot? Is that better than say a casserole?”

It was a good question, and one I didn’t have an answer to. But if anyone would, it would be Win. I call out, “Win!”

“I don’t know and don’t care,” was the response we should have expected from him. “Al, pay attention till you’re off the work floor!”

“Calm down Windows,” there was a smirk on Ace’s lips.

“That’s not my name…”

“Is so. Your last name is literally Dows,” I probably wasn’t helping.

“Pronounced Dow. I married into the name,” was the defence that hadn’t held up yet.

“Worse, ‘cuz you chose it,” Ace was laughing! “Speaking of, is your husband coming Friday? Pleeeaaassseee tell me he’s coming on Friday!”

“Where we going on Friday?” I’m already plotting excuses if I don’t like the answer.

“The usual?”

“No way,” Win shook his head. “Let’s do supper. No more bar food. Real food.”

“Bar food is real food,” Ace argued. “I love the bar scene. Come on!”

“You and no one else,” was Al’s argument. “We should go somewhere quieter for once.”

“Because you only want to game,” Ace was now pouting. “I want to socialize!

“You only want to dance, which I didn’t think would be possible in riding boots at a bar that isn’t even a Country bar,” that notation came from me.

“Whose side are you on? I rocked those boots!”

“Let’s put it to a vote,” Al was prepared to win and end this argument.

“Or,” Win’s dry tone already sucked the fun out of this conversation, “we pay attention to the very serious work environment we are still standing in.”

“We’re here working the steel,” I know for sure I’m not helping this time.

“Manufacturing,” was said with a pained sigh.

Ace pushed Win through the doors, “and now you’re in the lunchroom so your argument is stupid!”

All crews used the lunchroom, which was a germ pool I’m trying not to visualize. Still in teams, everyone claims the usual tables. Lunch boxes are opened. Mac picks up the competition no one’s interested in by dropping a bag of oranges onto the table. His wife had bought these at the Farmers Market. I will take an orange because they are free, even though it’s like I’m encouraging Mac. I stare listlessly down at a lunch that I pretty much have to assemble now. At some point I may want to learn to pack a proper lunch. Picking at these pathetic morsels, the conversation picks up.

“Did you guys hear that the government liquor board stores are all shutting down? What the hell?”

I perk up, not because I care so much but rather because I didn’t know this and it’s a new subject matter for us. There’s a chance I’m getting bored with the usual drivel where Mac and Win act like an old married couple retelling the same old stories but where Mac still has to somehow one-up Win. There was tediousness in that which was trying!

“Who the hell made that decision?”

“Why do you care, Ace? You don’t buy your alcohol anywhere that doesn’t have a hot server?” Al pointed out around a bite of some boring looking salad. A poor choice in their line of work.

“It’s still revenue for our province. Who decided it was a good idea to give away that revenue? It’s not like we’re not hurting for money as it is. And we all pay enough in taxes. I cannot afford another one when they feel they need to replace the revenue they gave away with this dumbass idea!”

“Didn’t you vote for whoever decided?” I felt it was pertinent to point this out.

I was given the finger for my observation.

“She’s right,” Win had my back.

“I didn’t vote for this,” was the rebuttal. “Why does government keep fucking things up? We’re already beaten down enough. All we do is work so that we can pay the government most of what we make so that they can give us a pittance of that back once a year and we’re supposed to be grateful. When is our government going to step up and do something for us?”

Mac may have been trying to start a fight when he brought up the valid point, “during Covid, they provided income…”

“That they didn’t vet or verify, so they fucked it all up only to try to extort back from us at a later date. And I didn’t vote for that either,” Ace punctuated by getting up. “Who wants coffee? Dammit, the sink’s backed up again! Do you all wait for me to unclog it?”

“You were a plumber,” I called out.

“It’s liquid you pour down the drain. This does not require specialized training, I promise!”

“That brine is not coffee. You might as well be drinking the unclogging stuff,” Mac’s comment had the rest of us rolling our eyes. “My wife makes the best coffee.”

“Unless your wife wants to come here to grind our beans for us, this is all you get,” I want to nip this in the bud. Or is it nip in the butt? I know shit all about plants. “Does anyone have a napkin?”

The orange is leaking onto my hands as I struggle to peel it. Win passes me a lace handkerchief. Of course, I question him with a look, yet still take it because sticky fingers are best left to the politicians.

“She can grind my beans any day,” Al’s brows wiggled.

“Book,” the name was like the sharp crack of a whip somehow. This was Lin, the foreman. Forewoman? Is there a PC version of that title we’re supposed to use? My chin is in my hand as I ponder this.

Both Mac and Ace looked up. No relation, by the way, just a strange coincidence. And an amusing ongoing anecdote from time to time.

“Face or Mac, Kedin?” I got to ask the question this time.

Teeth shouldn’t clench that hard without breaking, “it’s Ace.”

“Okay, Acebook.”

“Stow it, Anart,” Lin’s reprimand means little.

“You know,” Al looked speculatively at me, “I’ve never really thought about your name. What kind of last name is Anart?”

“Cuz Lien is normal,” I mock Al. “And it’s actually Devi Antart, but the first t is silent. And for some reason you all call me Dev.”

“Because my wife would kill me if she knew you were a chick,” Mac pointed out.

“Both Books now,” Lin’s ridiculously thin fingers beckoned them.

“OooOoo,” the entire lunchroom mocked them.

With a shrug, they both got up to follow their this-is-no-place-for-fun boss, Lin Kedin.

Getting back to the earlier topic, I feel it’s important to point out, “I still don’t understand why we would choose to shut down the LBS’s.”

“Like our jobs,” Win shrugged, “we’re just cogs. Does it even matter what we think?”

I pause because I kind of want to argue that. Which is weird for me. I wonder if my vote would have made a difference if I’d taken the time to actually go do that?

“Oh Dev, I got the Buddy Holly CD you asked about,” Win reached into his bag.

“What’s a CD?” Al looked up from his game.

By Selina Elliot

WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – {2203}  The clever puns used for the characters’ names is a good touch, especially as the majority are saved for a ‘reveal’ at the end of the story, ramping up the comedy aspects at the last moment and leaving the piece on an amusing note. A nice touch.

The author has successfully expressed the different personalities of the characters and explored the dynamics of their friendship. This adds realism to them as well as creates a dialogue that flows easily. Their conversations don’t feel forced or unnatural, allowing the story to unfold smoothly through their speech.

The concept is interesting and effortlessly incorporates the theme and character assigned. The author has come up with a quirky, amusing idea and has developed a well-conveyed story from it.   {2270}  The author was successful in incorporating all aspects of the prompt. They did a good job capturing the drudgery of waking up in the morning for a job, using lots of descriptive, sensory language.   {2308}  I liked the creativity / originality with the names of the characters. The narrative style (especially in the beginning) felt like a distinct and clear voice. The joke about LinkedIn was well played.   

WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – {2203}  There are a few unnecessary exclamation marks here and there which cause a little distraction. The overuse of exclamation marks may interrupt the flow of the reader or add emphasis to areas that don’t need it. It can also reduce their effectiveness in places where they are relevant.

There isn’t a huge amount that actually unfolds in the story, making it a little slow-paced. The political commentary is clear, but more events or drama here and there could make the story a little more exciting and support the political statement even further.   {2270}  The political issue being satirized here is a bit muddy, and though I see the author made an attempt, I’m not sure I understood their overall point. The detail of the workers’ names is a bit confusing, and I found myself having to go back several times to put those pieces together. It’s unclear to me how those names– Windows, Linkedin, Mac, Deviant Art, etc– have any bearing on the conversation about the workers being cogs, or the issue of voting. I suggest the author try to narrow the focus of the story to one particular political idea, and make sure their perspective comes across clearly.  {2308}  I felt the story lacked a clear beginning, middle, and end. Even if it is intended to be more of a vignette, I wanted a little more bookends on the story. Since this is a satire, I wanted to offer a reminder that satire doesn’t have to be all about jokes or punch lines. The story could also make its point through exaggeration and irony, etc. The jokes were great but I think the satirical elements could also be strengthened and expanded.

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