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  • Writer's pictureKali Kuzma

Milk Carton Mugshot: A Short Story

When You Have a Story You Can't Stop Thinking About

When I first began participating in the 250 Word Microfiction Challenge a few years ago, I hoped to get historical fiction as my prompt genre. It was a genre I'd never written in before and while thinking about it, I came up with a short story idea.

Well, a few years later, I'm still thinking about the concept. So instead of my regularly scheduled random generator short stories, I thought I would just write the story I've been thinking about instead.

Milk Carton Mugshot

The boy's eyes were staring back at me, cold behind the smile. Or did they only seem cold because my hand clutched the carton of milk his face was plastered on? The large text reading 'MISSING' in bold letters gave a sign of warning. I shivered as I closed the cooler's door. The other children's faces locked behind the glass like mugshots. Stuck there as if they were prisoners. I had freed little Johnny Kelton this time, but the others would have to wait until next week.

Tossing the carton in the basket, I scanned the remaining aisles only allowing myself a small chocolate treat. Mom wouldn't notice $0.25 missing from the spare change. I scoffed at the thought of her and dad paying close enough attention to me to mention anything. I slid another chocolate bar into basket. $0.25 they wouldn't notice but $0.50... they would at least strike up a conversation. It wouldn't be a pleasant one but at least they would say something to me.

"The usual?" Gar asked through a whisp of smoke. He inhaled another puff of his cigarette before I could respond.

"Yep," I slid the cash across the counter debating on whether I should return one of the treats to the shelf. Before I could finish the thought, Gar scanned them both with a loud beep then a plop as they dropped into the paper bag. I guess my parents would have to speak to me now.

I silently stood becoming entranced as the beep, plop, beep, plop of the items continued. I'd been coming to the convenience store every Sunday for as long as I could remember. And every Sunday Gar would check-out my items with a cigarette in hand never truly striking up a conversation. Besides the bad smoking habit, I didn't know much about him. He didn't wear a ring not that I thought he would be married. He didn't seem the marrying type. I wasn't sure why either. Was it the scruff sunken face, or the lack of interest in people?

Gar grabbed the carton from the basket, turning it over in his hand as he scanned the barcode. He didn't seem to notice little Johnny Kelton. Instead, Johnny's face disappeared into the shadows with the rest of my things collecting at the bottom of the bag.

The bell dinged as I pushed my way out of the store the summer heat hitting my face. I groaned under my breath. The sweltering 100 degree heat wave had sucked any moisture from the air weeks ago. Cracks spread like spindles through the dirt road ahead of me. Sometimes when I wasn't paying attention my toe would catch on a crack sending me toppling forward. Often times I would be fine and dust myself free of the accident, other times I wouldn't be so lucky. With a mile walk ahead of me, I secured the bag by jutting my hip to the side.

I followed the road, the barbwire fencing found on either side driving me in one direction, forward. Beyond the barbwire was met with fields and fields of dry, flat land for miles in every direction. Nothing to see except for a small scattering of houses in the distance. Like the land, like the road, they too were dry, crumbling to pieces. A gust of wind ready to leave them in a heap any second. Why my parents never left this small town I would never know. Not like I had any idea what else could be out there. The only time we traveled was when we used to visit my grandmother a few towns over. There was always screaming, and the house smelt like cat piss. But it had been many years since she was found dead in front of her tv screen, and the car rides stopped.

I shifted my weight bringing the bag to the other hip. The coolness of the milk pressing against the side. My flip flops clopped but were soon drowned out from a rumbling of wheels and a loud screech of failing brakes.

I glanced over my shoulder to see a large truck much closer than anticipated, a young man jumping free of the passenger's seat. His furrowed brows were directed towards me, his gait determined. Before I could process the young man's intentions, he ripped the bag from my arms spewing the contents along the roadside.

"Hey! I screamed, but his arms were wrapped around mine, my weight lifting off the ground. I was being dragged to the truck where I was pushed inside another pair of hands grabbing for my body. I struggled. Screaming, pushing, kicking, scratching as much as I could, but the hands didn't seem to give. Instead, a fist connected to my cheekbone with a large crunch. The impact sent the cab of the truck spinning, the pain deafening.

A loud thud of the door closing sounded as I was tossed to the side. Through blurred eyes, I peered out the window spotting Little Johnny Kelton. Our eyes meet. How long before my parents noticed I was gone? Surely, they would be wanting their change. How about Gar? Would he miss my presence every Sunday? Or would he turn a blind eye as he placed my milk carton mugshot at the bottom of the paper bag to be forgotten like the rest?

The truck rumbled, the wheels kicking dust into the air leaving Johnny Kelton behind, my chocolates melting beside him.

Final Thoughts

After all these years, I finally wrote the scene I've been picturing in my head. Could this potentially be a bigger story? Why, yes it could but I think the ending is perfect, quick, and to the point.

What did you think of the story? Fun fact, the trend of missing children on milk cartons only lasted from 1984-1989 dying out due to the lack of evidence that it was in fact helping find missing children.

Tell me in the comments if you have a historical fiction short story idea! Don't forget to subscribe to the blog for the latest updates.

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