Due to unforeseen events, John Rickards has had to cancel his planned flash fiction zine, Degeneration20. The story below was accepted to D20 and scheduled to run in January '08. Because it may lose some zing with further delay, I've decided to run it here and now. Feel free to comment.
by Gerald So
With the writers strike in its seventh week, Alan Smithee had lived in his car the past two. Last night he'd parked by a deli, so he could go for breakfast whenever he awoke. The woman in front of him ordered three dozen bagels and a gallon of O.J., and by the time Smithee walked out with his egg sandwich and coffee, his car was gone.
He didn't care. His most valuable possessions--watch, wallet, shoes--were on his person.
Smithee legally changed his name in 1979 to escape the ignominy of Lost & Hound, a series he created and shopped to the Big Three, only to be canceled after two airings on NBC.
Standing on the sidewalk, he ate his sandwich and drank his coffee. At the tolling of a church bell, he checked his watch, then traded it at a pawnshop for an imitation silver ring.
Breaking his last $20, he rode the subway and train to Newbury and stopped at the Barnes & Noble to have the ring wrapped.
"We're only supposed to wrap stuff you buy here," the girl told him, looking bored.
"Merry Christmas," he said, giving her a $5 handshake.
Smithee knew the area well. He'd met Robin at the Barnes & Noble six months earlier. She asked if he worked there, and he said he did, just to keep talking to her.
They'd gone on six dates since the strike began. As far as he could tell, Robin had no idea it affected him. Shaking the ring box, he promised to keep it that way just a little longer.
The clock in Newbury's town square read 3:05. Ten blocks from here to St Ann's Church. To make it in time for Confession, he ran the last five.
* * *
"No Confession today," said Alonso, the sacristan.
"Oh," Smithee said. He figured Oh was better than What?
"Father Jim was called away. Also we are rehearsing now for the Christmas pageant. Father will be happy to hear confessions after five p.m. Mass."
Smithee thanked Alonso and turned the corner before cursing his luck. He had to meet Robin at 4:30. He'd planned to be freshly absolved by then, ready to start a new life with her.
Feeling first snowflakes, he realized he'd mistimed everything. Robin's house had always seemed so close to St. Ann's.
On a clear day.
When he had a car.
Even if he managed to run to her house by 4:30, he'd look like he ran to her house.
What to do?
Walking around to the church parking lot, he spotted three minivans and two station wagons. A door on one of the wagons was slightly ajar. Smithee pictured a child anxious to get out and start rehearsal. Looking in the window, he saw the car was full of presents. He pulled the door back and saw enough room to worm behind the wheel.
"What am I doing?" he muttered as he wormed. "What am I doing?"
He thought he might have to call on his Lost & Hound research. Robert P. Barker had to hotwire two cars in the pilot.
But no, the key was in the ignition.
Smithee started the car and pulled out of the lot.
* * *
Answering his buzz, Robin said, "You're early."
Her porch light showed off her strawberry blonde hair particularly well.
"I know," Smithee said. "I'll tell you everything, but first I want to ask you something."
He pulled the ring box from his pocket. Robin covered his hand with hers. Her eyes lit up, and her mouth opened.
Smithee couldn't bear it. "Don't answer until I've told you--"
He thought for a second. "Nothing. The car's full of presents for the kids at St. Ann's. Not mine. I'm just delivering."
"Can I help?"
He didn't think long about that, either. "Sure."
He hoped the rest of the evening would go as well.