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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Break (02/06/06)

TITLE: Opportunities Lost
By Maxx .
02/12/06


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Jason killed the engine and opened the window. The night air smelled of urine beneath the broken streetlights. His brother was in the sheet-metal building across the way, gathering a million of someone else’s dollars. TK knew where it was. He’d beaten the information out of his cellmate.

A garbage truck rumbled past and stopped, blocking the lane. A man wearing an orange vest jumped off and strode toward the overflowing trashcans lining the gutter. He was silhouetted by the luminous stained glass Madonna that glowed on the towering church window at the end of the street.

Jason’s aunt had often taken him there as a kid.

He hunkered into the seat, trying not to be seen, hiding behind trembling fingers. He squinted, feigning sleep. From beneath the blur of his lashes the radiant Mother resembled TK’s wife, Candi, the woman Jason had been sleeping with nightly for the past ten months.

They didn’t know TK had been released early. He called that morning while Candi chattered in the background.

There was a ragged copy of a centerfold in Jason’s drawer that he’d kept since dropping out of college. An eighteen year old Candi posed as Miss July. Her major turn off was listed as being alone. She’d showed up at Jason’s apartment the day after TK had been sent upstate. His brother was away. Candi had needs. Youthful desires lingered. A dark fantasy came true.

The trash truck lurched forward, brakes crying like tortured puppies when it stopped at the next collection point. Choir voices wafted along the filthy alleys and graffiti-streaked walls. Father Chavez still closed the service with the same song. Jason remembered the stiff collared man waiting at the alter with a hopeful grin, eyes watching him, pleading.

TK was a mountain with a temper fueled by meth and jealousy. He had been slated as a second round draft pick for the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line until a stab wound in a bar fight severed a tendon. Jason saw him nearly tear a guy’s arm off for touching Candi on the dance floor.

Just touching her.

Jason bit his bottom lip with grinding teeth until pain shuddered through him. He ran a palm across the stubble of his chin. Wet. Bloody. He cursed and used his sleeve to dab the wound. TK’ll do worse if he heard her in the apartment. But maybe he didn‘t know. He tore at his hair. Candi kept a gun beneath her nightstand. He’d wanted to bring it just in case things went bad with TK. It was missing. I’d never have gotten a drop on him anyway.

The passenger door jerked opened and TK folded himself inside. “Drive.”

The keys fumbled through Jason’s fingers and he swore. His voice tightened and stammered like a schoolgirl in the principal’s office. “Y-you get it?“ Heat flushed his cheeks. He turned the ignition, the engine catching on the second try.

TK patted a box balanced on his lap. “I keep my promises.”

“They won’t report us?“

“It’s a chop-shop. You think they’re gonna call the police? Cry because all their illegal cash was stolen?” His laugh was a deriding baritone. “You’ve always been an idiot.”

The doors of the church parted and worshipers trickled onto the steps, mingling, talking, beaming. Jason accelerated, merging with the traffic that spilled from the parking lot. In the corner of his eye he saw TK holding Candi’s lost gun. He swallowed. “Take the money, man. All of it. Just don‘t go crazy.”

“Nobody does my girl. Not even my little brother.”

Cars began to stack behind the garbage truck that still crawled along the narrow road. Red from brake lights painted TK’s flesh, making him look like a demon. Jason’s breath caught in constricted lungs, his world faltered into slow motion. “It’s not like what you think.” A family walked together along the sidewalk, mother and father each holding a hand of their young son. The child turned to Jason and smiled.

“What details do you think I want to hear?”

The boy began singing Jesus Loves Me as his parents swung him.

Jason‘s eyes welled, his mind flooded with the despair of opportunities lost. He turned toward TK. “Everything’s broken. I messed it all up.”

“Don‘t screw around with the devil.”

“I want to go back--” A muzzle flash filled the car for an explosive instant. Thunder turned to cotton as the life was forced from Jason’s body. The door opened.

Jason fell into blackness.


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This article has been read 1089 times
Member Comments
Member Date
janet rubin02/13/06
This was dark and sad. Showed well, the hopelessness there is without God. Well-written. My favorite thing was the brakes that screamed like tortured puppies. Great analogy that fit the mood of the piece.
Kate Wells02/15/06
Hauntingly real images. Loved the light/dark contrast between those leaving church and those in the grips of sin. Excellent!
Jan Ackerson 02/16/06
Wow--this is so good, and the "I want to go back" so heartbreaking. Bravo!
James Clem 02/16/06
Excellent details and tension. (jealous muttering)
Anita Neuman02/16/06
I really love your work - the depth, the tension, the way you can make us understand such extreme characters...all brilliant! What I don't get is the connection to the topic. It's probably staring me right in the face, but I'm missing it. Regardless, this was a GREAT read!
Chris Clement02/16/06
Wow. Intense stuff. Great job!
Amy Michelle Wiley 02/16/06
That kept my attention all the way through! Well done! I agree that I would have liked just a teeny, tiny bit more of a hint that Jason had enough time to ask God's fogiveness before his death.
T. F. Chezum02/16/06
Very intense! The portraits you allow our minds to paint are dark and surreal. Very well written.
Linda Watson Owen02/16/06
Masterful storytelling! For those who need a 'happy ending' I think there is the hint of hope in the phrase 'I want to go back...' since the word 'repent' means 'to turn'. A more obvious change of heart would have killed the mood of the story. I love it exactly the way it is.
Karen Heslink02/16/06
You masterfully described a very sad and tragic life. It is so easy to become broken when we lose sight of God. You could just about reach out and touch his yearning to have done things differently. Thanks for a great piece of writing!
Lynda Lee Schab 02/17/06
As always, Maxx, wonderful storytelling. I confess I did have to go back and reread - I was confused with who TK was - the cellmate or the brother. Upon a second reading, it came together. Blunt, real-life writing. You never disppoint your reader. :-)
Shari Armstrong 02/17/06
Oh wow -
Crista Darr02/17/06
Reading your work is like watching an action movie - so vivid. Your message of opportunities lost came in loud and clear: "Don't screw around with the devil." The only thing that threw me is how the driver got shot and fell out the door. Wouldn't the car crash? Did the devil slide into the driver's seat?
Sally Hanan02/18/06
Awesome Maxx; you are in a league of your own and no one else here can touch you. Is there any way you could take all of your stories here, put the same MC's into them, and turn them into a novel? The girl under the East Bridge could be these two boys's sister etc.
Suzanne R02/18/06
'Ugh - shudder' (re. the blackness) and 'aaaaaah' (re. the light) - magnificent contrasts, and a sobering message. Well done!
Carla Feagans02/18/06
Excellent, as always. Your writing amazes me.

I was confused at first at the end - "the door opened". Then I reread it and it clicked. Always having to look deeper is what makes your stories even more profound, there are so many layers.
Marie Gabbard02/18/06
Only an excellent writer can give you the eeby geebies and you've done it again. Incredible
Kenn Allan02/18/06
Every writer must decide in which genre he/she is most comfortable - you have obviously chosen to be the Mickey Spillane of Christendom. What many might not realize is how difficult it is to conform this "gritty" style into a short story format. It depends heavily on the development of characters and setting, something better suited to a full-length work - it's nearly impossible to create a light at the end of the tunnel without first creating the tunnel. However, you do a very good job working within these restrictions and would love to hear you are undertaking a book-length project.
Val Clark02/18/06
A great, if dark, story that can be read at a number of levels. Leaves lots for the reader to ponder on re the eternal fate of Jason. Strong sense of place. Packed a lot into the word limit. Yeggy
Jessica Schmit06/07/06
This is the first week I scored higher than you in the challenge. I was in beginner and wanting to get out so I created the worst story ever known to humankind. I hated it. It was so corny, ridiculous..gross. It got second. I was shocked and elated, but very embarssed that I stooped so low to get a placement. All that to say, you were my "bar." I kept saying, "I have to score higher than Maxx." This week I did. After reading this amazing piece (again. I've read it like 10 times) I am once again ashamed my piece scored higher than this amazing work. it really is amazing. I could see everything. Your descriptions in this story are top notch. I thought this was one of your best written pieces you've ever wrote. Many referances to light. I liked that the light was still coming through in utter darkness. Very symbolic of their sitution. My own message I took from this story was that in even the darkest places, light can still shine. Very well written. Loved the plot. loved the darkness. Beautiful.