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Alligator Alley

Alligator Alley

Ginny is sixteen and feeling less-than when she encounters an alligator and a fish-truck driver one steamy morning in North Florida on an empty tank of gas.

3

Coming-of-age / Young adult fiction


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Nancy Bachana (United States)


The windows are down to let in the salty air coming off the marsh, and I’m cranking some redneck rock. Things are good, except for the gasoline situation. I don’t know if it’s being broke or being lazy, but my gas gauge spends a lot of time hovering just above empty.
Red brake lights shine ahead and I check my rearview to see if the truck with a blue fish is slowing too. The driver sees me and waves.
I’m getting tense because the mom at my babysitting job really needs to leave for work by 8:30. I don’t love spending my summer this way, but we need the money, and since only boys get hired for good-paying yard work, I get to push a four-year old ‘higher, no higher!’ five mornings a week on the park swing. Whenever the kid makes us lie down to sleep for 15 seconds while we’re playing house, I actually fall asleep.
“Hey. How you doin’?”
I startle to see the fish guy is out of his truck and leaning on my window.
“I’m just back there,” he explains from behind tinted sunglasses, “thinking you’re too pretty to be stuck in traffic. I figured I’d come check that you’re okay.”
“Oh, thanks. You didn’t have to.” I smile quickly and pretend to tune my radio.
“Sit tight, darlin’. I’ll go up and find out what’s going on.”
“Thanks,” I say, unsure how he’s doing me a favor. I turn off the engine to save gas, and decide not to text the mom for another ten minutes. When the guy saunters back I see he’s about thirty, wearing dark blue pants that mechanics wear, and a knit collared shirt. He leans casually on my door to deliver his report, close enough that I can see his nametag. Shane.
“Dangit,” he starts. “I knew I shouldn’t a took this exit, but I just had to have my favorite biscuits.”
“Po’ Boy’s”? I blurt before I’ve decided whether a conversation with this man is a good idea.
“That’s right!” he says. “I stop every time I pass through.” He smiles broadly to say he’ll be at my window for a while now. “You wanna know what’s up ahead?” he asks.
“What?” I crane my neck to see past the idling cars.
“Gator.”
“An alligator?”
“Yeah, bad boy needed to get his self across the road at rush hour.” Shane winks. “Must have a girl friend on the other side.”
Gator stories are favorites on the local news, like the ten-footer that crashes a wedding on a tranquil riverbank, or the local man who spots a new toy in his pool — and it’s moving.
“Guess he wasn’t going to let us change his plans, none,” Shane continues. “The sheriff’s deputies are up there and the game warden is on his way. The gator’s just coppin’ a squat, blocking traffic. Probably likes the way the road’s got warm in the sun. They’re cold-blooded you know.”
“Oh my god,” I say, giggling like some nitwit, “this is the worst! I’m in such a hurry.”
It’s getting pretty warm in the car with no air moving but I don’t want to start the engine until the gas station is a sure thing.
“Why don’t you turn your air on?” asks Shane. “It’s going to get pretty hot just sitting here.”
“Um, I know.” I smile sheepishly. “It’s just I’m really low on gas.”
Shane frowns at my idiocy just as a warm rain begins pattering my windshield.
“You know,” Shane offers, “I’ve got a full tank and my air conditioning can’t be beat. Come on in the cab. We’ll wait it out together.”
I don’t want to get in the fish man’s truck. But I don’t’ want to admit I’d rather cook in my car like a chicken on the spit at Po’ Boys.
“Okay. Thanks.”
It’s almost fun hoisting myself onto the wide running board and into the frigid cab that smells of vinyl and fast food. Shane climbs in behind the wheel and changes the station from country to soft rock.
From this high up I can see the police lights and I relax a little. Shane shares that he grew up in Alabama but works out of Brunswick, Georgia hauling from the fisheries. He likes driving but jokes that he can’t actually stand fish. Only shellfish.
I assert that nothing beats a jumbo shrimp cocktail with red sauce.
He prefers his shrimp fried, cajun style. He likes clams, which I won’t touch, but he won’t truck with oysters at all.
I just love them on the half shell with saltine crackers, lemon, and red sauce.
Shane decides it is time to take this relationship to the next level.
“I like you, Ginny. You got a boyfriend?”
I freeze. I know what a smart girl would say, but instead I tell him the truth.
“Well that’s good,” he says, rubbing his hands together like his dinner just arrived. “You want to go out sometime?”
“Oh, um, I don’t think my mom would let me. I’m really sorry.”
Shane is not discouraged.
“Because I’m older, right? How old are you, Ginny?”
“Sixteen,” I answer. “Eleventh grade,” I add, to emphasize my childishness.
This information should be like throwing a bucket of cold water on a dog. But Shane turns his body toward me and leans comfortably against the window. I search the road ahead, desperate for progress on the gator front.
“Don’t take this the wrong way,” he says. “But I’ll bet you’re a virgin.”
I stop breathing. How fast can I get out of this truck?
“Listen,” he says, “you should know something about me. I respect that you’re a virgin.”
Shane really likes to say the word virgin.
“And I’m telling you, you wouldn’t have to worry if you went out with me.”
I stammer out, “Oh, no, I’m sure you’d be just fine. I just can’t.”
“No, wait,” he says, putting a hand on my knee. “I’m telling you, you’d be perfectly safe.
Safe? I have never felt less safe in my whole life.
“Hear me out,” says Shane. “Imagine I took you to a hotel room. You could lay down on the bed and I could lay down right beside you, and I wouldn’t even touch you unless you said it was okay.”
Shane continues to talk. How can he still be talking? And I wonder what my father would think if he could see me now. Would he want to beat up Shane? Or would he think, ‘Dang, that girl is dumber than a bag of rocks! Glad I didn’t stick around’?
I reach for the door and whimper with happiness that it isn’t auto-locked, dropping Shane two points on the creepy scale.
“Thank you so much,” I say over my shoulder, “but I think animal control’s coming.” I’m on the move and talking fast. “I really appreciate your help. Have a really good trip.”
I hit the steaming pavement and slam the door. It is ecstasy to be out of the truck. Back in my car, I start the engine and roll up the windows. I steady my shaking hand to punch auto lock, then salute my rearview to say I’m AOK and there is positively no need to come check on me again, ever. Shane winks.
The traffic starts moving, and the car ahead of me aims an I-phone out the window so she’ll have something to post to Facebook before she gets to work. But when we arrive on the scene the alligator is gone and just the cops are hanging around. A woman in uniform is leaning against a squad car, gesturing with her coffee cup, telling a story that’s making the guys laugh. I stare at her and she raises her cup in salute.
And just like that, I stop my car. I get out and walk back to the fish truck where a grinning Shane lowers his window and sunglasses to look me over.
“You really shouldn’t hit on teenage girls,” I say loudly. “It makes us uncomfortable.”
Shane’s eyes dart to the cops and he rolls up the window. Cars are starting to honk behind him but I ignore them and turn to the cops. “Do you folks have any jobs or internships for someone like me? Because I’m sure available.”
The men are choking on their coffee, but the woman fishes a card from her pocket. She ambles over with a smile to press it in my hand. “Ask for Cindy Sherman,” she says.
Walking away she calls back. “Miss, I have to ask you to get back into your car now. There’s reports of a predator on the loose.”
“Yes, M’am,” I call back. I jump in the car and barely make it to the gas station where I empty my wallet. Damned if I’ll start my new life on less than a full tank.


Competition: The Pen Factor 2016, Round 1

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Review 1:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • You demonstrate a professional quality of writing throughout the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • Your story struck a good balance between narration and authentic dialogue.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • Your characters’ voices were convincing and authentic.
Characterization
  • Your characters were multidimensional. I found them believable and engaging and they genuinely responded to the events of the story.
Main character
  • Your protagonist exhibited a unique voice and had original characteristics. Their actions and dialogue were convincing!
Character conflict
  • Your characters drew me into their world from the very beginning. Their goals and conflicts were clearly conveyed.
Plot and pace
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a challenging balancing act. The story had a clear and coherent progression with a structured plot. A truly absorbing story!
Suspense and conflict
  • The joy of reading often lies in the element of suspense prompted by internal or external conflicts. The build-up was intriguing and I felt the tension mounting with each word.
Technique and tight writing
  • The writing was tight and economical and each word had purpose. This enabled the plot to unravel clearly. Your writing exhibits technical proficiency.
Point of view
  • The story successfully solicited the reader’s empathy through the clever use of the narrator's point of view. You show great deftness in handling point of view.
Style and originality
  • I loved your fresh approach. Creating a unique writing style while maintaining quality of prose requires both skill and practice. Impressive.
Atmosphere and description
  • Your story was a feast for the senses. The atmosphere wrapped itself around me and transported me onto the page alongside your characters.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The setting was realistic and vivid. The characters’ mood and emotions were conveyed successfully through the believable setting.
Opening line, paragraph and hook
  • Your great opening was a promise of wonderful things to come. I was hooked!
General comments from your fellow writer 1:
I thought you did an amazing job of pulling me into the story and keeping me engaged. I can't imagine anyone reading this and not experiencing that. Your descriptions were vivid to the point I could imagine myself in the characters shoes, sitting there waiting for traffic to move and feeling the heat of the day. The dialogue was well thought out and your main character was amazingly well developed. She had clear direction from start to end.

Review 2:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • You demonstrate a professional quality of writing throughout the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • Your story struck a good balance between narration and authentic dialogue.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • Your characters’ voices were convincing and authentic.
Characterization
  • Your characters were multidimensional. I found them believable and engaging and they genuinely responded to the events of the story.
Main character
  • Your protagonist exhibited a unique voice and had original characteristics. Their actions and dialogue were convincing!
Character conflict
  • Your characters drew me into their world from the very beginning. Their goals and conflicts were clearly conveyed.
Plot and pace
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a difficult balancing act. Are you sure all the material is relevant to the plot, setting and atmosphere? Make sure each sentence makes sense to the reader, and each paragraph moves their experience forward.
Suspense and conflict
  • The joy of reading often lies in the element of suspense prompted by internal or external conflicts. The build-up was intriguing and I felt the tension mounting with each word.
Technique and tight writing
  • When writing is tight, economical and each word has purpose, it enables the plot to unravel clearly. Try and make each individual word count.
Point of view
  • The story successfully solicited the reader’s empathy through the clever use of the narrator's point of view. You show great deftness in handling point of view.
Style and originality
  • Creating a unique writing style while maintaining quality of prose is tricky. As writers, we face the daunting task of making sure we are not being predictable. Can you find a way to give the content and characters more of a unique edge? Perhaps say something boldly, something fresh or show an unorthodox approach to a topic?
Atmosphere and description
  • Your story was a feast for the senses. The atmosphere wrapped itself around me and transported me onto the page alongside your characters.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The setting was realistic and vivid. The characters’ mood and emotions were conveyed successfully through the believable setting.
Opening line, paragraph and hook
  • Your great opening was a promise of wonderful things to come. I was hooked!
General comments from your fellow writer 2:
So, I think your story (despite first-person's narrative) is full of some lights and smells. The story is really combined two different things, the humans funny world and the melancholy world and in my opinion this is an unique stile of writing.