Friendly Fanny’s Pies and Such

A bit of flash fiction for Chuck Wendig‘s challenge: There is no exit. 1,000 words. Mine is 983 words.



“Oh, what in the hell!” A scream then follows from the back room.

“Aunt Fran just saw the new sign.” He says, lowering my peach pie into the bright pink box.

“Did Phil do it?” I say and he nods, chuckling.

“Of course.” He says.

“What was it supposed to say this time?”

“Not an Exit. Folks keep wandering through the side door here,” he points with his chin, “looking for a bathroom. She didn’t want to sound rude, we don’t have a public bathroom. She figures this will work.” The swinging doors behind him burst open with a kick.

“Look at this shit,” she says, slamming a beautifully carved oak sign on the glass counter. I read it upside down. THERE IS NO EXIT it says. “This is a friendly bakery establishment, not goddamned Hotel California.” We both work at not laughing.

“Call him. Tell him the sign I ordered better be in my hands by this afternoon. Oh, hi hon,” she says to me, “Let me get you a coffee.” She gets two of the heavy, white vintage mugs from the shelf, fills each with decaf and slides one across the counter to me. “Today, tell him it better be here today, Paul. Sarah, nice seeing you.” I smile and nod as she kicks the doors to the back open.

Paul dials up Phil on the wall phone I hear it ringing, stretches the cord to the end of its curl, dumps the decaf, pours the coffee of the day, a French roast and slides it across the counter to me. He puts a glazed donut that he made this morning on a matching vintage plate, and slides it next to the coffee. The phone is still ringing. I’m sure Phil is waiting for this call, probably with his feet up on the desk and sipping an Irish coffee watching the phone ring. I take my coffee, balance the donut plate on the pie box and have a seat by the window under the neon Friendly Fanny sign. Days like this it’s the best entertainment in this little seaside village.

Friendly Fanny’s Pies and Such started out with a normal name, simply Fran’s Bakery and Coffee Roaster. Paul roasts all the coffee himself each morning. A week before the opening Fran and Phil broke up, again. Phil, the only sign man in town was in the middle of making her sign. He installed it early opening day, a modest painted sign in a pretty font, Fanny’s Pies. She pitched a fit, he took it down. It came back just as it is now Friendly Fanny’s Pies and Such in motion neon with a cartoon Fran in a cheesecake pose, wearing pink Daisy May short shorts and a big behind that wiggles back and forth. She wanted to hate it, but there you go, it’s still here wiggling today for the whole world to enjoy. Even the town council considers it a landmark now, and I laugh to think of it. Paul said, ‘I think they had wild hmm-hmm that night’ and remembering that makes me laugh too. I open my notebook.

“Hey Phil, you old coot.” Paul says, then holds the phone out for me to hear him laughing. “Good one. She wants her real sign by this afternoon and you can pick this one up.” More laughing, “See you this afternoon Phil.” He rolls his eyes and hangs up.

The door bells jingle, Emma Jean pushes a doggy stroller through. Her dog, Alice has that built in smile that all Pugs do. They are wearing the same polka dot dress. Paul slides the new sign under the counter, meets my eyes and we work at not giggling.

“Morning Sarah, how are you coming on that novel, dear? Can’t wait to read it.” She drags a chair to the corner table, then adds two more. “Morning Paul, the book club will be along shortly.”

He is already on his way with a coffee carafe and a tray of donuts.  They are here for the show. They usually meet at the diner across the street. On slow mornings, Paul and I have coffee together. ‘Here come the biddies,’ he’d say as they strolled up the street in their fancy book club meeting dresses, and here they come.

Phil’s ’49 Ford truck pulls up, tips his faded baseball cap to the ladies, I’m a Fanny man, it says. They giggle. He holds the door for them, the new sign is under his arm wrapped in brown paper.

“Here you go, Paul.” He says handing him the package. “I’ll have two coffees to go, and heck give me a bag of your best glazed.” The ladies in the corner giggle and fan themselves with menus.

Paul fills his order, places the coffee and bag of donuts in a cardboard tray, picks up the bill on the counter.

“Keep the change,” Phil says as he turns, nods to the ladies in the corner and winks at me.

Paul takes the package to the backroom, comes out, wipes down the counter and I swear I hear the Jeopardy jingle. And now we wait.

“What in the hell!” Fran plunges through the swinging doors, sees the old truck out front and slams through the glass door, one of the bells flies off and rolls down the sidewalk. She flings herself at the passenger window, slapping her hands against the glass. “God damn you Phil,” she screams. He leans over opens the door, she gets in and one long stream of curse words follow them down the street.

Paul already has the step ladder in the doorway of the side room, tacks up the sign and steps back to make sure it’s straight.

THERE IS NO EXIT, Y’ALL, it says. Silence in the bakery, a nervous giggle and then we all laugh. I want to clap. Good one, Phil.


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Once There Was Far Music

A bit of flash fiction for Chuck Wendig’s Challenge: Pick a Five word title, write 1500 words. Mine is 1499, with one word in change.

“All the hookers on the pipeline wore patchouli,” she says, plopping down on the long bench seat next to me.  “That’s when I stopped wearing it.”

I scooch my backpack closer. She wrinkles her nose. I am wearing patchouli. The bus driver smirks at this before pulling off the gravel back onto the road. I see him in the rearview mirror.

Dad talked endlessly about the pipeline when he called on Sundays after way too may beers. A welder since before I was born, he said the pipeline was created just for him to make a fortune. He drove his jeep all the way up there with a couple of pals. They went back home to Omaha, but he stayed. Each week I heard how he roller skated on empty roads, got in bar fights, made his own beer, panned for gold on the weekends, bought a ranch then lost it in a crap game, danced naked under the Northern lights and fell in love with Northern women. He was already an old man then living out his last great adventure.

Every call ended with, “I don’t know why she left me and took you girls away. Come see me.”

“Maybe in the fall Dad.” I’d say.

“Okay,” he’d say and I’d hear his breathing fade into the far away music from the honky tonk tavern below his apartment until it became the dial tone.

“It’s because you beat her every Friday night, you old son of a bitch.” I’d say to the phone. Whoever thought I’d miss those calls.

“What you got in there?” Pipeline gal says nodding to my backpack. “It smells.”

I look out the window. The bus is too full to get away from her. I wonder what she was doing on the pipeline. A kid toward the back has his Walkman on so loud even the bus hum and chattering of the four ladies still in their blue smocks from the assembly plant by the tracks doesn’t drown it out. It’s so loud I want to sing along like I do when I’m sweeping the floor, Jeramiah was a, then I realize I am singing it and hum the rest. I tap my toes in the air to the music.

It is a pleasant sunset ride to the beach. The shadows are long already. It will be dark by the time I walk out to the end of the jetty. I brought my flashlight. We pass the strip mall where I got my glasses last year. Most shops are empty now except the liquor store and some fast food joints. KFC wafts somehow through the windows lulling folks to sleep. Pipeline gal’s head nods forward.

There’s a bus stop out here in the middle of nowhere. We slow down. A young Mom with a baby stroller and grocery bags waits in the last golden light of the day. She is smiling. Then two guys slide out from the deep shadows of an oleander bush behind her, my heart pounds and everything goes into slow motion. Does she know them? Did she know they were there? Her smile seems sly to me now, suspicious even. The second guy is holding something next to his leg, a cane, a riffle? No, it can’t be, it must be a baseball bat, but they are in street clothes. They didn’t just play baseball. Did they? No one seems to notice. No one is paying attention. I glance around. Everything tells me this isn’t right, the hair on the back of my neck, on my arms say run, run now. I’m ready to jump up and run right out of here. Everyone moves gently together, swaying as we brake.

“Don’t stop.” I hear myself say. No one hears. Did I say it out loud? I’m going to sound crazy. “Don’t stop,” I say again louder, shrill, “he’s got a bat.” We slow to a stop. I look around in jerky motions. “Don’t open the door. The guy in the back has a baseball bat! Can’t you see it?” I say it to the driver, but he only sees her pretty smile. The doors open. I rise slowly, they will think I’m offering my seat to her. Then I jump into the aisle and run to the back door screaming, tapping shoulders, “Wake up, get out, save yourselves, he’s got a gun.”

I jump out and don’t look back. Then I run, run like I haven’t ran since the fifty-yard dash in sixth grade. I run and run. The strip mall and the telephone booth outside the liquor store is still so impossibly far away. Where did those people come from? There’s no grocery store nearby. There aren’t even any houses here, only chaparral and ravens.  I hear screaming and gunshots. Did I hear gunshots? Are they screaming on the bus? “Oh my God,” I cry out “help me get to the phone.”

I run faster and the hard box in my pack slams against the small of my back. Cars have their headlights on now and whoosh KFC and honeysuckle as they pass. Then, as in all those movies where the girl running in high heels trips and falls I hit the gravel like I’m sliding in to home base with both elbows, arms and knees, barely saving my nose. I jump back up because I am the only person in the world who can save those people on the bus. I can feel gravel in my knees, my pants are ripped. My arms are wet, I’m sure it’s blood but there’s the phone.

I tear the door open. The light comes on and I dig for a dime in my pocket. I am shaking so hard it flips out of my fingers, lands somewhere on the floor and I can’t find it. It’s okay I can dial 0 for the operator without a dime. There is no dial tone. I dial again, nothing. This is supposed to work. There is a tap at the door and a silhouette of a tall man. I scream.

“You all right, hon?” He says. Now, I’m hysterical. “The phone’s out of order, why don’t you come inside?”

I open the door slowly, still crying. It sticks halfway and he pushes it open.

“What happened? You’re all banged up.” He says.

“The bus,” I point up the road but I can’t catch my breath now.

“Did the bus hit you?” He says.

“No, a man.”

“A man did this?”

I shake my head, crying. “I fell. A man got on the bus with a rifle, no, I mean a baseball bat. I saw him. I tried to warn them. No one listened. I ran. I heard screaming and shots, I think I heard shots.” He looks up the road. Nods his head.

“Is that what that was? Hmm. Let’s get you inside.” He says, taking my arm. “My wife will clean up your cuts.”

“Call the police.”

“We’ll do that.” He says.  “The county Sherriff will be out this way in a couple of hours. Come on in now.”

I step out frantically, and look over my shoulder to the bus. Nothing is there. It’s gone. Are they safe then? Did I imagine all of this? No, I couldn’t have. Three big sleigh bells are tied to the door handle, they jingle as we enter. He nods to his wife.

“Oh my,” she says stepping out from the counter. “Come on in the back dear. I have some peroxide and Band-Aids, we’ll get you fixed up.” Her husband takes her place behind the counter, picks up the phone. There is a kitchenette in the back. I sit at the table. She wets a washcloth.

“Did you hear all of that commotion out there a bit ago?” She says. I nod. “Sounded like a surprise party.” I’m not sure how to respond to that, so I don’t. She carefully cleans my scrapes and cuts, then tapes a chorus line of blue Band-Aids on both arms. I stand and thank her.

“Whatever you was doing, you can do it some other time. Go home now.” She says. I nod. They trade places behind the counter again. He holds the door for me.

“Talked to one of my buddies down the line, got a little burger stand, says the bus pulled out of his place a couple minutes ago. They all seemed fine. Another bus will be along in a few minutes, both directions. You okay?”

“Thanks, yeah. Good to know.” I nod, swing my pack on and head out across the street. He waves. I see the bus approaching, lights on in the twilight coming from the coast to take me back home. What the hell was all that about?

“Well Dad, maybe we’ll try this again in the fall. You don’t mind hanging out on the mantel until then do you?” Yeah, I didn’t think so.





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