Written by: Ray Stone

An icy wind whipped up dead brown leaves that lay to one side of the highway and sent them spiralling high into the gathering gloom of the night sky. Below, a small white cardboard box rolled crazily down the centre of the pavement, clattering and circling until it hit a telegraph pole and flipped sideways into the brush. In the distance a lone pair of headlights appeared, dancing slowly as the vehicle drove up and then down the undulating highway. Within a few minutes, an old Chevy flat top with more rust across the bonnet and cab than the original green paint came to a halt below a giant floodlit sign advertising vacations in Vegas. The straight-eight thumped melodically, indicating care on the engine, unlike the bodywork, was a regular chore.

Biff Johnson lifted a pack of Target from his top pocket, shook the pack with practised ease and pulled a cigarette out with his lips. There was an audible metallic clang as he closed the Zippo after lighting up. Outside, the highway behind remained empty. Biff wound the window down, allowing smoke to disappear into the night air.

Clayton had said the meet would be at 22.00. Biff checked his watch; it showed 22.05. After another five minutes, Biff switched the radio on and tuned to Old Oprey. A Don Williams song, ‘You’re my Best Friend’ was playing. He sang along to it, and as the song finished, he noted headlights in the driving mirror. Biff switched the radio off.

A Lincoln Navigator pulled up next to the flat top, and the drivers’ window slid down. Clayton Johnson, as usual, was dressed immaculately. A woman he had probably picked up at the bar before heading for the meeting, sat next to him. Clayton turned his head slowly and grinned. He handed a small package to Biff.

“You ready, Biff? Did you need anything else?”

“I’m ready,” answered Biff irritably. “Thanks, bro’. Visit me when I am settled, huh?”

The Lincoln took off, its tires squealing. Biff watched it disappear, tossed the cigarette into the night air and rewound the window up. The package sat on his lap. Wrapped in tape, he tore it open and pulled the wads of money out. He turned the radio back on and listened to the country as he drove off. Clayton had been kind to him after prison, and there was a chance to make a fresh start.

Silverbend was asleep when he arrived there an hour later. A small town of under five hundred, it had one restaurant and bar that stayed open from six in the morning until midnight. After parking the Chevy on the potted asphalt parking lot, Biff swung through the doors of ‘Silverbend Waffle House’ and sat on a barstool. The place was empty. On the wall behind the bar, an old notice advertised the Waffle House for sale.

The barman smiled. “What’s your poison, mister?”

Biff smiled back. “Two J.D’s so we can toast the new owner – me.”


Writing order: Ray Stone (Cyprus), Gabrielle Burt (NZ), Anna Zhigareva (NZ), Hemali Ajmera (India), Sameer Nagarajan (India), Abhimanyu Jamwal (India), Iliena Bosu (India), Donna McTavish (NZ), Ray Stone (Cyprus), Suraya Dewing (NZ).