Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Prompt Attention

Every issue, Writer's Digest magazine has a little short short story contest in which they provide a prompt and you are supposed to write a 750-word (no more) story based on it. I usually try to participate, just for fun (haven't won one yet, but hope springs eternal), and you may recall that I do usually post them here, although sometimes I forget.

Right before I left for the long weekend last Friday, the latest issue arrived, and the contest prompt was "A police detective is assigned to a case involving a burglary at a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop."

So I mulled that over on the drive to Boston (long road trips are great for plotting out stories and other projects; most of the first half of It Might Have Been was "written" between Saratoga and Boston) and it kind of gelled Saturday night. First thing Sunday morning, I was able to write it down. A bit silly, but fun.

Unfortunately, when I got back home yesterday, I reread the prompt and discovered that it actually said: "A police detective is assigned to a case involving arson at several Krispy Kreme doughnut shops." Oops. Actually, that might work out better; I just need to alter a few things.

The Leavening

Detective Brad Gilroy got out of the car in front of the Krispy Kreme and strode over to where the suspect was being held.

“Lieutenant,” he said with a tone of slight confusion, “did I hear you correctly?”

“Yes, sir,” said Lieutenant Jordan. “Employees say this individual”—he gestured to a handcuffed suspect being held by two uniformed officers—“charged in, brandished a weapon, and demanded every doughnut they had.”

“A weapon?”

“Yes, sir, this.” He handed Gilroy a plastic bag inside which was a metallic blade-like object. “It’s a frosting knife.”

Gilroy expressionlessly looked at the suspect. As if on cue, he began to struggle.

“I must get back! You have to believe me! All of humanity hangs in the balance!”

Gilroy sighed knowingly. “Great, one of these. What did you want with the doughnuts?”

“I must get them back! Quickly”

“Back where?”

“To—” He stopped abruptly.

Gilroy knew the drill. “Let me guess, you’re from the future.”

The suspect cautiously nodded.



Gilroy sighed again. “All right. Let’s have it from the top.”

The suspect looked around warily, then began. “I am from the year 2207.” He glanced across the parking lot to what looked like a large metal mixing bowl, easily four feet across and three feet deep. “You see, we are in the middle of a civil war.”

The suspect explained. In the late 21st century, after decades of food scares, and the contamination and recall of many “healthy” foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, and even meat, consumption of junk food skyrocketed. Peoples’ entire diets revolved around M&Ms, cookies, cakes, and other snack items. The Twinkie rose to the top of the food pyramid. By the beginning of the 22nd century, obesity had become epidemic and public health was in crisis. The government was unable to cope effectively (not surprisingly), and society was left with a power vacuum that was exploited by several ambitious and ruthless dieticians and nutritionists. They seized control—which was easy enough given their superior physical condition—and declared martial law (some called it “marshmallow law”), banning all foodstuffs that were not deemed “healthy.” At first, violators were punished via a stern lecture, but, inevitably, power corrupted, and before long the possession of any dessert item was punishable by death. Even possession of a dessert cookbook was grounds for imprisonment.

“My own grandmother,” said the suspect, “was caught with a bootlegged copy of ‘Completely Cookies’ and was sentenced to 10 years in the ‘food pyramid,’” a massive stone structure that served as a maximum security prison.

Any revolution will eventually spawn a backlash, and soon one began in the last surviving Dunkin Donuts franchise. “So many of them were built in the 20th and 21st centuries that it was statistically certain that at least one would survive the Healthy Age.” One did, and a “doughnut underground” was formed. Within a decade, it had built itself into a force powerful enough to overthrow the Nutritionists. “The doughnut was our symbol, our rallying cry, our weapon.” The world indeed ran on Dunkin.

Among some revolutionaries, legends had been passed down the generations about another type of doughnut, the fabled Krispy Kreme, and the countryside was scoured for evidence. This was about the time that time travel was discovered. “We sent scouts back in time and they brought forward examples of Krispy Kreme doughnuts.” Soon, there was a rift, and two factions emerged—the Dunkinians and the Krispyites—each vying for control. The result was violent civil war. “It became impossible to tell the blood from the jelly.” Those with access to the time portals went back in time to acquire more doughnuts to fortify their arsenals. “As Krispyites, we don’t have the luxury of having a manufacturing infrastructure the way the Dunkinians do.”

“So you see,” concluded the suspect, “these doughnuts are desperately needed in the future.”

Gilroy stared at him for several moments. There was no sound but dry leaves blowing softly across the parking lot, and the occasional crackle of a police radio. “Get him outta here!” Gilroy finally exclaimed.

As the suspect was being led away, he broke free and dashed across the parking lot. “Get him!” yelled Gilroy.

The suspect jumped inside the metal bowl before the police could catch him. He flipped a switch and there was a bright flash. The bowl and the suspect vanished. Everyone stopped and stared, mouths agape.

The lieutenant looked at Gilroy. “Sir?”

Gilroy looked at his watch. “I’m going out for a salad.”

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