Contest Entries, Short Stories

Sweet Dreams (Short Story)

It’s a totally bitchin’ summer for Anna, working at the Fotomat…until she realizes life isn’t all Kodak moments.

Third Place, NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2, September 2019. Genre: Suspense; Location: A drive-through; Object: a boarding pass. 998 words.

***

“God, these people!” Mandy flips through the glossy snapshots. “Piano recitals, graduation parties. Gag me.”

“Can you not mess everything up again?” I sift through the envelopes I’m re-alphabetizing. Seriously, who puts M before H? Mandy Malone, that’s who.

“God, Anna. Take a chill pill.” Jack and Diane come on the boombox for the millionth time today. Mandy hurls an empty film canister at it. It ricochets off the window before rolling across the floor of the booth.

Our tiny town doesn’t have many summer jobs, and I thought I landed a good one. My friends had swooned when I told them about Fotomat. Working with Mandy Malone! Mandy, the senior, with her perfect hair and red Corvette. I thought that working with Mandy might make me cool by osmosis, but summer’s almost over and I don’t think it’s happening. Mostly, Mandy’s just a pain in my ass.

A yellow Beetle pulls into the lot. I move to the service window as it approaches. But it veers back onto the road.

Mandy crosses one long, tan leg over the other as she lights a joint. Smoke seeps from her lips.

I fold my arms. “You’ve gotta put that out if a customer comes.”

“Duh. We’ve had like, two customers all day.”

I open the window to wave the smoke out, restraining myself from complimenting Mandy on her ability to count to two. 

That yellow Beetle is parked in the back of the lot now. Weird. I leave the window open; the breeze feels nice. I file the properly-alphabetized envelopes, then get my scrapbook from my bag.

All summer I’ve been working on it. It has everything from junior year: Cyndi Lauper ticket stubs, boarding passes from our all-school trip, and of course, photos. That’s been one good thing about working at the Fotomat. Free processing.

“Whatcha doing?” Mandy leans over my shoulder as I arrange the pictures. “Hey, those are from our trip.”

“Duh,” I mutter.

“You wanna know a secret?” She reclines on the counter, blowing a puff of smoke toward the ceiling. “You know Mr. Peterson?”

“The chemistry teacher? Who died earlier this summer?”

“Yeah.” Mandy pushes out her lower lip. “So sad.”

“They said it was his heart, right?”

“Sure.” Mandy shrugs. 

Sure? What does that mean?

“Anyway.” Mandy lowers her voice. “We went all the way on that trip.”

“You what?” I can’t hide my disgust. “Mandy! He was, like, a million years old!”

“He was a fox,” she drawls. “Like an older Don Johnson. Mature men make the best lovers.”

I glare at her. “He was married!”

“Oh, grow up, Anna. Everyone knows his wife is crazy.”

“So?”

“So what? She’s totally insane. A psychopath, trust me. At least Mister P got laid before he croaked!” 

I watch her play with the end of her ponytail, trying to picture her in Mr. Peterson’s hotel room, slipping her shorts down. I feel like I’m going to puke. What else went down between them this summer?

From behind the booth, a car engine sputters. “Put that thing out!” I hiss, gesturing at the joint. 

The yellow Beetle inches up. For a second, I think it’s going to drive away again, but it stops. The middle-aged woman who rolls down the window is vaguely familiar, although nearly everyone is when you work at the town’s only photo place.

I lean out the window. “Can I help you?”

“Maybe.” The woman cranes her neck like she’s trying to look into the hazy booth. I can hear Mandy shuffling around behind me. Ugh, I’ll kill her if she’s messing up my scrapbook. 

“Film to drop off?” 

The woman shakes her head. 

“Photos to pick up, then?” 

“Yes,” she says slowly. “Under…Williams.”

Weird. I don’t remember doing a Williams order. Maybe Mandy ran it, but that would mean Mandy did actual work, so…not likely. I shrug and start to dig through the W section. Of course, the envelopes are out of order. 

“Can’t find it, dear?” She smiles, and that vague feeling of recognition gnaws at me. 

“Hang on,” I say, turning around to ask Mandy if she remembers a Williams. But Mandy’s not there. Maybe she ran over to the drugstore to pee? 

The woman cuts the ignition. A shiver runs up my spine as she climbs out of the car.

“Mandy?” I glance around the booth again. There’s nowhere to hide. She’s definitely gone. What the hell has Mandy done?

My stomach somersaults when I see what’s in the woman’s hand. A gun. Her voice is ice cold when she says: “I’m sorry, I must’ve been mistaken. Try P, for Peterson.”

“Mandy!” I scream into the empty booth.

“You little slut,” Mrs. Peterson whispers.

“It wasn’t me! I’m not her!” If I weren’t scared shitless, I’d laugh at someone mistaking me for Mandy Malone.

“Of course it’s you. There’s no one else here,” she sneers. My head spins. As usual, I’ve been at the window all day while Mandy slacks off in the back.

Her face twists. “I’m not crazy.”

I almost feel sorry for her. I know what it’s like to play second fiddle to Mandy. Who in this town doesn’t?

She aims the gun. My breath freezes in my chest.

Something screeches. Tires on pavement. A red Corvette peels across the parking lot. In an instant, it mows over Mrs. Peterson and skids expertly to a stop just short of the yellow Beetle.

I blink in the pink evening sunlight as I step outside. Mandy exits the Corvette and squats down, peering under the car. “Good riddance, you old murdering bitch.” Then she looks skyward. “Rest easy, now, Mister P.”

I stand there in the parking lot with my mouth hanging open. The smell of burning rubber pricks my nostrils, and from the boombox inside the Eurythmics sing about sweet dreams.

“God, Anna,” Mandy says with a smile. “Come on, let’s lock up. I need help ditching this body.”

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