This last week, I was cut from the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest. In round #1 I got one point (which was not the lowest score, believe it or not). In round #2 I got 15 points (which is the max number of points you can earn in a round. So, I was in the bottom the first round and the top in the second. The judges add those two rounds together and so I had a total of 16. I only needed 2 MORE POINTS to go forward to the third round. I feel pretty disappointed. Strangely, I think if my margin of error had been wider, I wouldn’t feel so bad. But to know I was held back because of 2 POINTS, just rankles like hell!
Anyway, I thought I would share the story that got me placed in the top of my group for round 2. For this round, I had to write a comedy set in a daycare center and in some way including a cigar. Honestly, I can’t see how this story is so much better than my first one. But here ya go. Hope you enjoy!
Staff Sergeant Reinhold Peterman stepped through the front door of the Happy Tots Daycare, an unlit cigar clenched between his teeth. From beneath the brim of his campaign hat, he surveyed the playroom and its motley occupants. Bright posters and crayon drawings decorated the areas of the walls not taken up with wooden cubbies. A pint-sized table stood in one corner surrounded by matching chairs. Instead of regular carpeting, someone had pieced together a quilt-like floor covering from mismatched squares of carpet remnants. Peterman felt certain a lunatic had put this room together.
And running around this real-life version of Pee-Wee’s playhouse like headless chickens was a collection of tots Peterman eyed with especial disdain and suspicion. My God, they brought me out of retirement for this? Peterman had never had children and looking at the screaming, jumping mass of chaos before him, he was glad he’d abstained.
He stepped fully into the building and shut the door with a resounding slam, gaining the attention of all within, including the adults who stood watching their charges with sickening affection. With the door closed, he could better smell the disinfectant mingled with macaroni-and-cheese in the air. He thought he might puke. “All right, you little snot-nosed pipsqueaks. Playtime’s over. Line up by age and those ranks better be sharp as a knife.” At first, no one moved. Peterman scowled. “I said form lines!”
At his barked order, everyone scurried to form six neat columns – five year-olds, four year-olds, three year-olds, 2 year-olds, and kids 1 year-old or less. The adults lined up as well after helping the smaller children get into position.
Once the files were set up, Peterman took out a lighter from his breast pocket, snapped it into action and touched it to the tip of his cigar.
“Oh, you can’t smoke in here.” A plump woman with frizzy brown hair wearing a broomstick skirt and a peasant blouse stepped forward, a hesitant smile on her face.
Peterman looked her up and down. “What’s your name?”
“Jennifer Hicks. I own this daycare.
Peterman sneered. “Lady, this is my daycare now. And the stogie stays. You got a problem, take it up with the U.S. government.”
Hicks opened her mouth to reply, glancing at the other adults for support. They, however, kept their eyes riveted on Peterman. She stepped back into line.
Peterman advanced into the room and paced in front of the neat columns, cigar smoke pluming around his head. “I am Staff-Sergeant Peterman. As some of you might know, due to a change in legislation, the U.S. military has acquired this and similar day care facilities across the country in order to generate income for its operations and train the next generation of tax payers. Should you stay on here, you will be expected to adhere to our regulations. First, you will arrive by 7:00 a.m. every morning. No exceptions.
“But Sergeant, some of the kids go to public schoo-”
Peterman rounded on Hicks, who had, again, spoken up in protest. “Are you questioning my methods, sugar-britches?”
“No, I just wanted to bring to your attention-”
“Then, get back in line and keep your trap shut.”
Hicks scrunched her face into an indignant frown and resumed her place at the head of the adult line.
“And stop eye-balling me, ya hippie weirdo.”
She dropped her eyes.
Resuming his pacing, Peterman took another drag on his cigar. “Second, you will clean your plates at every meal you eat here. If even a crumb of your peanut-butter sandwich remains on the plate you will suffer the consequences.”
Peterman turned on the five year-old boy at the head of his file. He was tall for his age and had dark brown hair. “Consequences, you little hairball, are what your mommy and daddy never taught you at home, which is why the U.S. government has taken charge of this facility.”
“My mommy taught me my ABC’s.”
Peterman hunkered down until he was eye to eye with the boy. “What’s your name, boy?”
“Billy Mayo, what?”
The body shrugged. “Just Billy Mayo. But my mommy calls me William when I’m in trouble. Like when I put her phone in the toilet to see if it would float.”
“You will address me as ‘sir,’ runt. Or you’ll do pushups till you turn green. Got it?”
“My dad can do pushups real good. My mom likes to watch him and she gets all red in the face.”
Peterman narrowed his eyes. “You say your mommy taught you your ABC’s, Mayonnaise.”
Billy nodded. “Want me to sing them?”
“I’ll give you ABC’s, boy,” Peterman said, ignoring the boy’s offer. He raised his hand, forefinger pointing towards the ceiling. “Adapt.” His middle finger went up next. “Bolster.” Next his ring finger shot up. “Combat.” He lowered his hand and pushed his face closer to the boys, the brim of his hat bumping Billy’s forehead. “Get me?”
“No. What’s ‘bolster’ mean?”
Undaunted, Billy said, “What’s ‘bolster’ mean, sir?”
Peterman straightened to tower over the boy. “Bolster means to hold up, to support.”
“You mean like when my dad has to help my grandpa go to the bathroom?”
Peterman resisted the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. No weakness, Peterman. Can’t let these ankle biters get the best of you. He began to pace again. “The third regulation is you will keep this facility clean and free of debris. No toys left on the floor, no coloring on the walls, no food fights, no-” he stopped and grimaced. “What is that smell?”
Hicks raised her hand tentatively. “I think one of the babies made a boom-boom.”
Peterman turned to glare at her. “A boom-boom?”
“Went poop? Number two?”
“Why is that being done here in the playroom?” he thundered.
Billy Mayo raised his hand. “Sir, they’re just babies. They got nowhere else to go.”
Peterman looked up at the cloud mural decorating the ceiling. This was going to be a long assignment.