Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: The Family Reunion (06/05/08)
TITLE: She Should Have Worn the Shirt
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Some plans just come together. Kirk thought murder should have been more complicated. It's not like they were professionals. He was only a fool in love with a gorgeous girl who fate had saddled with a cruel, hateful, family. She needed them gone.
Stephanie, herself hit upon the method earlier in the summer when she had been forced to can green beans with her grandmother. It wasn't enough the old woman used her for slave labor, but she had to explain things, too. Like how botulism was produced in the absence of air, as in a sealed jar, and how the only way to destroy the toxin in low acid foods was with 240-degree heat, and since water boiled at 212 degrees, the bath process wouldn't work. Thus the pressure canner. Then her grandfather had wandered into the kitchen repeating some Korean War story.
Kirk, she had cried later, these people deserve to die.
That's when it came to her—how she could get rid of a number of vegetable-eating Haricots.
Family Reunion Day dawned. Kirk, who had no family with which to reunion, monitored the proceedings from his car. You'll have to wait, Stephanie had warned. They can't be normal and start with food.
Kirk watched young and old, wearing identical shirts, running, tagging, tossing, catching, talking, crying, kissing and hugging. These people didn't look uptight.
He was almost afraid for the kids who hurled themselves along a Slip and Slide stretched parallel to the food tables. Don't be fooled; parents expect total obedience. They didn't look that stringent to Kirk.
And they're prudes, completely self-righteous. They wouldn't know fun if it smacked them upside the head. Those words didn't fit the adults who later lined up for the "Butt and Belly Contest." Men lifted shirts and bulged stomachs, while women turned around and stuck behinds out for a photographer. The judges crowned a shaggy, rotund man the winner for the biggest belly, but a hand-flailing argument ended in a three-way tie for the ladies.
More laughter, more horseplay.
A feast of togetherness—the words came to Kirk from somewhere and pricked him. He saw Stephanie leaning against a tree, arms crossed under her halter-top. He had never really looked at her from a distance. From thirty yards, though beautiful, she resembled the block of ice standing in the kiddy pool.
The sun, overhead now, pressed down with the weight of an iron. The women pulled out coolers and set tables. The winner of the belly contest ambled to the parking lot where he wove through cars until he stood at the passenger side of the car next to Kirk's. "It's mighty hot out here, son. You need a drink?"
"No—no, I've got water."
"I'm Uncle Martin. You change your mind, you're welcome to join us—just tell them I said so." Uncle Martin opened his car and lifted a bowl of potato salad from the floorboard, shifting it from hand to hand, finally using his shirt, which read, "I Survived Our Family Reunion," as an oven mitt. He adjusted the plastic wrap and headed to the food table.
While everyone joined hands and bowed heads, Stephanie went through the food line, avoiding the bean platter.
Minutes trickled by like the sweat at Kirk's temple. And then: "Oh, my God, what have we done?" he said, for the first time using the Lord's name as it was intended.
He scrambled out the door, and felt wobbly on legs that hadn't moved in hours. Once beyond the cars, he leaned forward in a dead sprint yelling: "Noooo—"
Up ahead, the Haricots paused in the loading of their plates.
Uncle Martin said, "Glad to see you changed your mind, son."
Just as Kirk stretched his arms to snatch the bean platter, his toes hit the Slip and Slide and he was jettisoned forward, ramming his nasal structure into his brain on the table's edge. Kirk felt the stillness of collective shock followed by a sprinkling of beans. Hands turned his body and laid him on a lap—a soft, comforting lap— probably belonging to a butt contest winner.
A second invitation for the day hovered above him. He formed words.
"What did he say?"
"I don't know."
Kirk heard Uncle Martin. "I think he said, 'Don't eat the potato salad, either.'"
Stephanie screamed and gagged and spit. Kirk's last thought leaving earth was that she wasn't so lovely after all.
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