Round 10 Challenge – Kill off one of your characters (Word limit – 1200 words)
Read UTAH 9 here (see “Similar Posts” at the bottom of this post for any earlier entries)
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Janet Garver, the wife of the Super 8 front desk clerk, had lost her daughter in a car accident, so when her husband told her one of the motel guests was looking for her missing daughter, she took it upon herself to assist. Delia needed the help. For starters, she was desperate for income. In her wanderings over the past three years she had blazed through all her savings. If she continued this way she would have to sell her farm over the next year.
Due to the recession and all-time high unemployment, jobs were scarce for out-of-staters. But Janet was close friends with the owners of the Halfway House restaurant on 22A, and after a brief phone call told Delia there was a position for her there as a waitress if she wanted it. Janet assumed Delia would turn it down. The diner was forty miles south of the motel, about an hour commute each way, and the salary was lower than average for the Burlington area.
To Janet’s surprise, Delia jumped at the offer. It was ideal for her, though she didn’t elaborate why. There was no point in explaining to Janet that she had come to Vermont to scour the shores of Lake Champlain because of a dream. The Halfway House was a straight shot from Burlington down US7 and 22A, the major north/south route running parallel to Lake Champlain. Delia could combine her work commute with explorations of the lake’s perimeter.
On Monday, November 9th, Delia began her first shift. Her job had always been to put food on other people’s tables, although not quite so explicitly. In another strange inversion of circumstances, most of her customers were farmhands.
At first Delia kept a low profile about Corey but she soon recognized that not only was it impossible to maintain anonymity as a small town diner waitress but also that she was in a unique position to gather information about her possible whereabouts. She no longer avoided talking about her search for Corey. Naturally there were a number of customers who thought she had lost her wits. The standard explanation Delia gave for why she was in Vermont was that a Greyhound bus driver three years ago claimed he saw a girl who resembled Corey board a bus to Burlington. It wasn’t the most compelling lead. But then again, as many of them muttered quietly over their coffees while Delia tended the counter, they too would probably grasp at anything in her situation.
Delia had been working at the Halfway House for two months when Jacob’s station wagon pulled into the parking lot. Since meeting Corey there three years ago Jacob had only come one other time. He rarely drove along that stretch of 22A and he even more rarely stopped along the way.
Once Jacob took his seat, Delia came out from behind the counter with a menu. “Something to drink?”
“I’ll just have a club sandwich and onion rings.”
He stared out the window while waiting for his order. Delia brought him a glass of ice water with the sandwich and rings. “You from these parts or heading somewhere?”
The skin under Jacob’s eye twitched. “Just traveling. Heading south.” It was obvious he wasn’t interested in small talk.
The only other customers, an elderly couple, paid up and left. He noticed Delia pushed the cash register shut with her hip the same way Corey did with the kitchen drawers. Jacob ordered two slices of cherry pie to go.
“Keep the change,” he mumbled as he headed to the door. He grabbed the door handle but then froze in his tracks. Pinned up on the corkboard was a Missing Person flyer with Corey’s photo. Delia was chopping walnuts at the counter for the maple walnut pies. She looked up and saw Jacob looking at the flyer. The sound of walnuts crunching under the chopping knife stopped.
“Do you recognize her?” It was silent.
Jacob glanced over at Delia and shook his head. Then he put his hood up and walked outside. Delia returned to her duties. The engine of Jacob’s station wagon roared to life. The sound of the motor climbed in pitch and then faded away into silence.
She stopped chopping the nuts and looked up slowly at the door. She again saw the image of the man looking over at her, putting his hood on, and then looking away. It was the same face. The same face from the computer screen three years ago. The same face except with a goatee. The chopping knife fell with a clatter from her hand as her throat constricted. Two slices of cherry pie to go… She rushed outside, a cry lodged in her throat. The station wagon, which she had never seen, was gone.
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While her mother was serving Jacob, Corey was standing naked in front of the bathroom mirror, looking at herself in side profile. Her ribs were visible and her shoulder blades jutted out sharply. She ran her hands over her stomach. The nightmare she had awoken to that morning was playing out in her head again. She was in a sunny cornfield, with birds whistling about her. The corn was almost ready for harvest. Hungry, she reached for the closest ear and shucked it. But no matter how much husk she peeled away, she couldn’t find the cob underneath. She tried another ear and then another, but there were no kernels in any of them.
With her hands on her belly, Corey looked at her reflection as the tears ran down her face. Finally, scared but determined, she wiped her face dry. Then she walked out of the kitchen and ran as fast as she could into the corner of the table. Doubling over, she fell to the ground. She stood up and ran again. And again. When Jacob arrived he found her on the floor. She was unconscious and bleeding between her legs.