idol survivor | daily-fic challenge, day 1 | ~1000 words
Don't nobody around here know how to save this damn town. Whiskey Junction is a small, creaky holler of a place, the kind things happen to, not the kind anyone's steerin' toward some future.
The local boys hang out at Ryder's Wrangle, "chillbilly" wanna-bes in threadbare denim and cowboy boots just waitin' to take the world by storm. Ricky Pennington is one a them boys—he was born here, probably die here, maybe soon. I think he expected to make something of hisself, but the fact is, he didn't. After all was said and done, whatever magic he was looking for just had to come too far to find him.
Ricky's daddy's supposed to be some sort of oil-rig big-shot in Texas, but they's probably just rumors. Nobody knows him, and Ricky didn't see him more'n a handful of times growing up. Daddy Pennington would come through town in a big shiny car, driving over to Ricky's mama's place like Christmas, leaving candy bars and French perfume behind before heading back to wherever he came from. Ricky always said he was gonna live with his daddy one day, but everybody knew: if his daddy hadn't married his mama before Ricky came along, it wasn't gonna happen. Maybe Ricky didn't fit in with his daddy's life or maybe it was his mama who didn't, but either way, there was no rescue waiting in Texas or anywhere else.
'Sides, you'd think his daddy would've paid more attention to rent money and chippin' in for food and clothes along the way, if he really cared. Guess it didn't make him feel as good as swoopin' in like some kind of hero and throwing presents around a couple-three times before he just stopped.
Ricky and his mama live in this old sheet-metal shack out past Picklewater Creek, where there's midges and moonshine farmers and not much else. They scratch taters and corn and melons outta the dirt, but it ain't much to live on. His mama's good at molasses-makin' and sewin', and by the time he was thirteen, Ricky could build stuff outta nothin'. But things is hard for 'em, harder than most folks livin' round here.
Ma always tells me not to judge Ricky's family too harsh. Ricky's mama is a sweet woman, she says, a little too set on hopin' for the best instead of seeing what's there, but it cain't be helped. As a boy, I reckoned that was prob'ly "nice-talk" for stupid but I never said nothin'. Ma's slappin' arm ain't no joke.
Ricky's never been what you'd call quiet. Always riddled with nervous energy—never could sit still—always runnin' toward the next opportunity. When we was kids, he kept sayin' he was too busy workin' to have time for school, and finally he just stopped going. He'd be out choppin' wood or plowin' a field somewhere while the rest of us was trapped behind our desks just waitin' for the bell to ring.
After school was different, of course. He'd show up to play a game of catch before it got dark, or come down to the creek where we was catchin' crawdads and work right alongside us until he had enough for supper. Later, when he was older, he'd join us for a smoke behind the high school gym, or meet us in the woods on a Saturday night with a bottle of whiskey or a jug of 'shine.
None of us had much, but we didn't want to feel like we was nothin'. All of us wanted more'n our families'd had, and the least we could do was pretend we were better'n them on the way to gettin' it. We talked big and acted bigger, too puffed up to even care that everyone else might've thought all of us was bein' ridiculous.
Pa says it was the same when he was a boy, but I don't believe it.
It's harder now that we've graduated school. Work is scarce, and there's too much empty time rattling around. There ain't enough to keep you busy here, to keep you from noticing that you never became anything like what you'd planned.
I 'spose Ricky just hoped to fit in as best he could when he was younger. But he's grown up now, and what he wants is a slippery thing.
He used to come by the feed store where I work, lookin' wild-eyed and talkin' fast. He'd ask if I knew where he could get his hands on a haul of tobacco or weed, or did I know anybody buyin' silver? And you know, I just might've, but those didn't exactly seem like honest questions.
Now he ain't around as much. Folks say he's workin' for some shady characters known for runnin' bootleg smokes and liquor, and his mama's just sick about it. Cain't say as I blame her.
I'm as surprised as anyone when he sidles up to me in front of the Piggly Wiggly two towns over, and tells me he's got a line on something big.
"Big how?" I ask. "Like, some kinda career move?"
"Big, like, more money'n you've ever seen," Ricky says. His eyes're sparklin' like sunshine on a creek.
That don't sound so good to me. "You be careful now," I say.
Ricky just laughs. "Aw, Cal. You's always been the worryin' kind…"
I wonder about what he's gotten hisself into, but it's Spring and business is climbin' at the feed store. Afore long, I forget about the whole thing.
It's Friday night when I spot his face on TV while I'm knockin' back a beer at Ryder's. It's a mug shot—the news is runnin' a story about Ricky and a couple of scary-lookin' fellas from Waynesville, caught robbin' a bank in Hayesville at gunpoint that afternoon.
"Well, shit," I say, and the bartender nods. He knows Ricky, too.
Ricky'll be charged with armed robbery and he'll be stuck in prison for years to come.
Guess the damn fool finally made it outta Whiskey Junction after all.