Texas-sized Shopping Bag

The prompt from the instructor started with a drawing showing an old man in a forest with a sack into which he puts things he finds on the forest floor. Two kids follow him until he rests by a tree and falls asleep. They sneak up and look into the sack. Prompt: “Who is he? What’s in the bag?


John, Mary, and their four-year-old daughter Katie stood on the second-floor balcony overlooking the river. It wasn’t normally a river. Normally, it was Marshall Street in Houston. But now, it was thigh-deep in water flowing slowly to the east in the pouring rain.

Two modern two-story townhouses stood on this side of the street with a row of eighty-year-old one-story bungalows on the other side. The owners of the bungalows had evacuated three days earlier.

“Daddy, is the hurricane ever going to leave?”

“It’s not a hurricane anymore, Sweetie. It’s a tropical storm.”

Katie furrowed her brow and concentrated on how to better ask her question. “Is it ever gonna stop raining?”

“Yes, it’s definitely going to stop raining. The weatherman says tomorrow afternoon.”

John saw his neighbor Frank sitting on his balcony with his feet propped up on the railing. His rifle was leaning against the wall behind him. “Hey, Frank, how’s the watch going? I hope you’re on top of things.”

“This ain’t my first rodeo.”

“Daddy, why is Mr. Frank going to a rodeo? I thought he was watching for loopers.”

“Looters, Katie. He’s watching for looters, and he just means everything’s under control.”

John saw movement on the water. He took two steps to the end of the balcony to get a better angle. A canoe was just coming into sight with two men walking beside it, pushing it along. They each glanced around furtively without looking up at the balconies. They turned the canoe and pushed it up into the water between two of the bungalows across the street.

“You see that, Frank?”

“I seen. I’ll go wake up Jesse.”

“I’ll get in my rain slicker and go down to meet our guests.”

John turned and caught Mary’s eye. “Katie, why don’t you go and help Momma make lunch? I’m gettin’ kinda hungry.”

As Mary and Katie made their way into the kitchen, John grabbed his slicker and started down the stairs. It still seemed surreal to John. His foyer wasn’t just a tile floor with the master bedroom door on the left and the door to the garage on the right, but instead eighteen-inch-deep water with both doors and the front door standing open. The moldy stench was overpowering.

He waded out onto the front porch and stepped down into the two-foot-deep water of the sidewalk. As he sloshed along toward the street, he saw Jesse and Frank step onto the balcony and take position at the railing, sitting in metal deck chairs. The rifle barrels were resting on the railing.

“Morning, Jesse. You awake enough for this?”

“Let’s dance.”

As John reached the middle of the street, now in three-foot-deep water, the canoe emerged from between the houses. Both men looked surprised at his presence. He braced himself against the flow of the suburban river and waited. When the canoe reached him, he put out his hand and stopped it.

“Howdy, fellas. What’s in the bag?”

“Howdy yourself. What bag?”

“This shopping bag. Oh, I guess you call it a canoe?”

“Mister, we’re just trying to salvage our belongings. You need to get out of the way.”

“Your belongings? That house there is where Mr. Tillerson lives, and the one next to it is where Mr. Wright lives. If you’re kin to the Tillersons or the Wrights, how about showing me some ID?”

The men glanced at each other. They each raised their shirt tail to show the butt of a revolver tucked into the front of their pants.

“I’m Mr. Smith.”

“I’m Mr. Wesson.”

“I didn’t know Smith and Wesson are comedians.” John turned and pointedly looked up at Frank and Jesse. “You hear that fellers? We got a couple of comedians on our hands.”

The two looters turned and looked up, but they couldn’t see either Frank or Jesse clearly because their faces were obscured by the rifle sights. Each man had the barrel of his rifle on the railing, the butt of the rifle against his shoulder, and his finger on the trigger.

Frank spoke in a normal, conversational voice. “How about you boys raise your hands.”

As the trembling pair raised their hands, John said, “What was it you did in Afghanistan, Frank?”

“Sniper.”

“You ever kill a person?”

“No, only bad guys.”

“Bad guys ain’t people?

“Not to me.”

“How ‘bout you, Jesse? You a sniper?”

“Nah. I’m a deer hunter.”

“What you figure your range is to these two bucks?”

“Bout eighty feet.”

“Figure you could bag one of ‘em at that distance?”

“His damn head fills my scope. I don’t know how I could miss.”

“Stay real still, you two, don’t even flinch.” John stepped forward and pulled the revolvers from their pants.

“Okay, now here is how this is gonna go. I am gonna keep your shopping bag, er, canoe, and redistribute the contents to the rightful owners. Y’all are gonna walk down the middle of the street in that direction. If you move near the sidewalk, you get shot. Hear that, Frank? You with me on this?”

“I’m ahead of you. Fellers, if you put your hands below your shoulders, I shoot. If you turn and look at me, I shoot. If you duck under the water, I fill it with lead until I see a red stain. I can see the middle of the street all the way to the end of the next block. Why are you not moving yet? Do I need to start a countdown?”

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