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Slow Caboose

This is my first Flash Fiction in a while, and my first to this new prompt site - my site! 

The prompt was a song title - any random one from Spotify, Google Play - wherever. I got Slow Caboose, a leisurely jazz tune form the 50's, by Sax Mallard and his orchestra. Right away I thought of it as a kid's name, somebody very laidback, and the consequences of that. This took me way longer than it used to, as I'm both out of practice and pickier than I used to be. It was fun to create again.

We had 2000 words for this one, but I only used about 1300.


Slow Caboose

“Damn, move your ass, Slow Caboose, he’s got a gun!”

Trevor heard Eddie, but he still paused – of course.

His stepfather had christened him Slow Caboose, an apt choice for a small, shy child, quietly observing, slow to move before venturing out into the world. That, and ‘stupid’, often accompanied with a cuff to the head and banishment to his tiny bedroom. Trevor wasn’t stupid, but he had quickly learned to keep a low profile in life, to hide his intelligence, to avoid eye contact, and to never answer a question in school. He had few friends, but no enemies, and was content to be that quiet kid that nobody really noticed.

“He’s my little Slow Caboose,” his mother would say to the neighbours, as they all sat out on the front stoop. “Easiest child in the world, never a peep, even as a baby.”

His quiet life changed with middle school, when everyone changed from just kids to Boys and Girls, full of hormones and angst and drama. The alpha males found a target for bullying in Trevor, but he didn’t cry or run, he just took it – so they moved on.

“Come on, guys,” said Eddie. “Let’s go. Slow Caboose is too slow, and stupid.”

But the girls – now that was interesting. He’d overheard Sheila, a pre-teen already all too aware of her sexuality and the power it had – complaining to the little clique she ran.

“Math is for losers,” she said, “but if I don’t at least pass, then my shit of a mother will ground me. I tried my best to convince Mr. Johnson to change my marks, but he refused. But at least he doesn’t read the marks out loud.” She sighed. “This is so unfair, what am I supposed to do?”

One of her acolytes pointed over to Trevor. “How about Slow Caboose? I saw his last test – 82 per cent.”

“Really?” said Sheila. She walked over to his table and rapped on it with her knuckles.

“Hey Caboose, look at me. I hear you understand this math stuff. You need to help me pass some tests. I’ll pay you – cash, nothing more, no funny business.”

To his surprise, Trevor accepted. He had no illusions about ever getting to even first base with this crowd, but some friends might be nice, even if they were girls. He soon had several of them on his tutoring list, all paying customers. Strictly business.

His mother approved of his new friends, while his step-father – after a few crude jokes – decided Slow Caboose could start chipping in for room and board. Which meant just enabling the slob to buy more beer, but Trevor didn’t mind, as he still kept back a bit of money for himself. In addition, he had discovered that once Sheila’s crowd were one on one with a guy they didn’t need to impress, they were not that bad. And they, in turn, discovered that besides him being quiet, he was a good listener. His years of quietly watching made him a good source of advice too, for their issues. And they always had issues. He couldn’t believe how complicated they made their lives.

Of course, his cosy arrangement only lasted until Eddie and his gang realized that not only was Slow Caboose friends with almost all their girlfriends, but who knows what stories they confided in him. Trevor was at his usual seat at the girl's table, explaining the mysteries of algebra, when a large hand grabbed his shoulder and squeezed. It was Eddie, with his gang in tow.

“Mister Slow Caboose,” said their leader. “Pretty cosy with the ladies aren't you, cuddling up, hearing all their secrets. Special class, right now. By the bleachers. Move your ass!”

Trevor realized that for once he’d better act quickly, so started negotiating as soon as they were out of the school.

“Look, man, I’m just trying to help the girls with math. They pay me, cash, nothing else. Strictly business.”

“And as for any gossip, I ignore it. All bullshit they just make up to impress each other. You want me out – I’m out. I can help you guys with your stuff if you want. For free of course.”

Of course, he didn’t mention his disappointment that it really had been strictly business with the girls, in spite of his hints to them, and that they had shared way more details of their shallow lives than he needed to hear.

Eddie heard him out, then turned to his gang. “I think we got a deal here. But,” he glared at Trevor, “it doesn’t look good for us if everyone sees you just talked your way out of this, So we got to rough you up, for appearance's sake. Nothing personal.”

His mother was tearful when he limped into the house, with ripped clothes, some bruises and a cut lip, but his step-father seemed a little pleased. No matter. The bruises healed, the girls found other tutors, and he slowly settled into a life of crime.

Not that it was especially hardcore crime. It was a poor neighbourhood, with too many people fighting over too few resources. There were lots of petty criminals, including his new friends. They enjoyed a position of power in the area, but only because they were too small to be noticed by the big shots. Most of their crime was small stuff, like shoplifting, hustling weed, stealing bikes, a bit of vandalism when they got bored. Trevor suggested they get into cybercrime and run a few scams, but Eddie was a hands-on kind of guy. They discovered that besides his tutoring skills, and suggestions on strategic moves to keep other gangs at bay, he had other skills. He could watch and analyze, all while fading into the background, so was an excellent choice to case out a job, and to be the lookout.

But Eddie was older and needed to up his game. Today would be their first actual robbery. They were going to rob Tommy’s corner store, and Eddie figured more bodies would be more intimidating. Today Eddie’s little brother was the lookout, and Trevor was crammed inside with them all. Their plan might have worked too, but the storekeeper was babysitting his little granddaughter. As soon as the gang noisily pushed into the store, she started to cry, and Tommy started to push back.

"Too many," he said. "You boys, go home. "

Eddie puffed up his chest and waved his knife at Tommy. “No funny business gramps, just give us the money. And shut the baby up.”

Tommy glared back, grabbed a handful of coins from the till and threw them across the counter.

“Here little boys. Take this home for your piggy banks. Then go scare your own little sisters.”

Eddie lunged at him with his knife, catching just a sleeve on the old man's sweater.

“Okay, no more nice guy,” said Tommy, reaching under the counter. “Time for a gun.”

That’s when the gang headed for the front door. Trevor had been taking it all in – the posturing of Eddie, the little girl crying in the corner, the change in Tommy’s body language, the two shoppers hiding behind the dubious protection of a Doritos display. He slowly followed his friends, still watching over his shoulder as Tommy pulled a huge ancient pistol from under the counter. The shopkeeper pointed it with shaky hands and fired.

Slow Caboose felt a thump in his back, then a spreading pain. He coughed, sagged against the door, then slowly slid to the cold floor. He was suddenly tired. He looked down and watched as a pool of blood slowly spread across the floor. He took one last painful breath, then slowly let it out, until there was nothing left.



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Joyce Juzwik

This story illustrates the pain of bullied children, and paints a picture of the future for many of them. They sometimes turn to a life of crime because this gives them control over a part of their lives, when on a day-to-day basis, the control is in the hands of the bullies. It seems to follow that the rest of the gang would get away, but the slow follower, the one who tried so hard to belong, would catch the bullet in the end. Yes, it's a flash piece, but there's a lot here. I enjoyed this one.

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