Flash Fiction Challenge #33: The Unlikable Protagonist

Flash Fiction, protagonist, short story, writing

Our flash fiction challenge this week at Terrible Minds is just as it sounds: we had to write a 1000 word short story about a protagonist that you wouldn’t necessarily like but wanted to keep reading anyway. I hope this fit the bill!

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An Old Spark Dies Hard

If you didn’t know Velma, you wouldn’t look twice at her.

In the sixties, she’d been a hot tamale. Men wanted her because she was good at what she did.

Now, she was seventy-four. But getting old doesn’t change everything. In fact, it makes getting that thrill easier.

Stepping into Wal-Mart, she was greeted by a man nearly her age, in all likelihood a helluva bigger wimp than herself. She’d seen things, done things. But this fella had probably been a mechanic with a wife and kids, doing good deeds for good people. Velma offered a trite smile and at once began searching for a target.

She did it more for fun now than survival. Old habits die hard.

The expanse of the store laid out before her reminded her of all those drills she had done back in the day inside a brightly lit warehouse.

In and out. In and out. In and out.

Like at the warehouse, there were aisles down which to hide, to disappear. Like at the warehouse, the noise was incessant. She hated to shop. Luckily, she wasn’t doing that.

Standing by the jewelry counter just fifty feet before her was a man in his fifties, a tall man wearing one of those cowboy neckties, a white shirt, and a black sports jacket. She’d known a tall man that dressed like that back in the early eighties, but she would never recognize him now. Age had worn away this man’s facial features.

Anyway, the job wouldn’t work with that jacket.

Velma meandered to her right, a shopping list crumpled in her hand, ready to be read if the event required it of her.

Past the holiday aisles. Past the pet food. To the pharmacy.

A cart sat unwatched down the makeup aisle. Revlon. Pricier than that other hooey young girls buy. It must have been a real woman whose purse sat unattended there in the child section of the cart.

Velma approached, her eyes on the wall of expensive slap as she shuffled to her left. Her arm touched the cart handle.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I’ll move that out of your way!” a kindly voice said from behind her. The owner of the cart pulled it down the aisle, out of her reach.

Velma turned, feigned a frail voice, and said, “No worries, dear.”

She knew it was too good to be true.

Continuing along the outer perimeter of the store, she had to pass through the clothing and baby sections before she reached the electronics. Electronics was always hit and miss. You either got your cheap folk or your broke folk in that section. Wealthy, wasteful men did not buy their electronics at Wal-Mart. No, they went for the good stuff, the name brands, elsewhere. But wealthy, frugal men could be even better. They knew how to save. That meant they had money in the bank.

But sometimes you couldn’t tell the difference between those men and the thirty-year-old mama’s boy that still lived at home and bought video games on credit.

Velma had been doing this for years, though, and profiling was second nature to her. Some people were good at it. She was great.

She spotted a young couple by the televisions, a two year old girl in the cart playing with the mother’s purse. The man, presumably the father and husband (judging by that fancy ring on his finger), was standing before thirty-two inch televisions while the wife glanced down at the larger ones.

“This one’s on sale,” the man said.

“Well, I’ve never heard of that brand,” the woman replied.

The toddler pulled out a wallet from mom’s purse.

“Well, what about this one, then? It’s LG. That’s a brand name.”

The wife nodded. “Well, let’s compare quality. Is that no-name a 1080p?”

“Yes.”

The toddler glanced up at Velma, locked eyes, and smiled at the strange old woman.

“How fast does that TV turn on?”

The husband turned to his wife. “What?”

“And what’s the warranty?”

The backs of both parents were to Velma now, leaving only the toddler to contend with. The kid was wearing sharp clothes, not the cheap duds that Velma was raised in. The husband’s leather coat looked expensive. The wife was smartly dressed, and those boots did not look they came from the thrift store.

Velma had picked well. She reached her hand out and snatched the wallet from the little girl, quickly shoving it into her coat pocket, and as the kid began to cry, she reached out a weathered hand and said, “Oh, what a precious child you have.”

The parents turned around, smiled politely, and thanked her.

Velma nodded and walked away.

Soon, she could smell the cool wintery air as she stepped towards the exit, knowing that freedom was just a few dozen feet away.

“Velma Pharrel?”

That voice was unmistakable. She had heard it time and time before. She could run, but her knee was wonky, and so was her hip, for that matter. She’d kill herself in that icy parking lot.

She turned around.

It was the tall man with the cowboy tie. It was really him. Mark Adwell. She hadn’t noticed him following her.

Her nose was nearly pressed into his chest.

Adwell flashed a badge. “Velma Pharrel, I’m arresting you under suspicion of theft of personal property. Will you please come with me and quietly avoid a scene?”

He rested a massive hand on her shoulder and guided her towards one of the employee backrooms. Her heart raced in her chest, adrenaline surged.

It was wonderful.

“It’s been a long time, Velma.”

Velma glanced up at him. “You never forget an old flame, do you?”

Mark Adwell looked down at her. “I was practically a kid when you used me to keep you out of jail. I’d hardly call you an old flame.”

Velma smirked. “Oh, but I am an old flame. A spark. A firecracker. Call it what you will, but I’ll never stop, Mark. Never.”

© Lindsay Mawson, 2012

11 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Challenge #33: The Unlikable Protagonist

  1. Louise – Thanks for the comments! I think I was trying to demonstrate that like Dan said just below your comment, it's almost like a compulsion, a life's calling, and that she likes the thrill. Thanks for noting that her motivation doesn't seem so clear.

    Dan – I'm glad you liked it!

  2. I'd buy Velma a round or five at the local tavern. Very much enjoyed it. When I was in my "mispent youth" phase my friends and I would engage in petty shoplifting..but we were too chicken to leave the store. I vividly remember the heart-pounding excitement and adrenaline boost. Can't wait to start doing it again when I'm 74 years old. ; )
    Velma seemed very well-defined. I'll keep an eye out for her when I go shopping later today.

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