Last night on Twitter I challenged any and all procrastinating writers to create a one-draft, 1000-word short story featuring a coat hanger. (Don’t ask how I thought of it. I’d tell you “it’s a long story” but let’s be honest: 1,000 words is a short story and we all know it.)
In keeping with my theory that I should never ask anyone to do anything I wouldn’t do myself (unless it involves dentists, fire-eating or jumping out of a perfectly good airplane) I decided to play along. My 1,000 word story, for which no suitable title has presented itself, follows below the fold.
If you want to play along, feel free to write your own short story (must include a wire coat hanger in some way) and link to the entry. Your trackback will show in the comments.
And now, on to the tale:
I hid in the closet when I heard them coming. I knew they were coming for me. I had heard them talking the night before, when they thought I could not hear.
“Time to clear out the old ones,” they said. “We don’t need them anymore.”
As I shivered, naked, on the floor, I wished for the warmth of my winter coat, or even the faded slacks I had once regarded as beneath me. How I hated seeing them draped across my frame, knowing I had nothing better. Had I known my time would come so quickly, I might have appreciated the threadbare pants a little more.
Footsteps approached the closet, slowly at first but then faster as they rounded the empty bed and headed toward the mirrored doors.
I lay very still. If I made no noise at all, perhaps they would pass me by, moving on to the next room where others like me waited.
A shadow fell across the closet, blocking the thin tendril of light that seeped in under the sliding door. As I waited for the door to slide away, I remembered my glory days.
In my youth I had traveled the world, flying the finest airlines and staying in four-star hotels. Work kept me far too busy to get out of the rooms very often. I hadn’t regretted it at the time but I wished I had done things differently now. I had been to Paris, but never seen the Eiffel Tower. I spent many days in Rome, but couldn’t tell the forum from an aqueduct. I had let it all slip by, and now it was too late.
I worked hard. I made a difference. I never, ever, let my employers down. Every job they gave me went without a wrinkle or a hitch. From one city to the next, I carried my burdens without complaint, racking up hours without thought even when my masters took a holiday. How many faithful servants can say that? Not too many in this day and age.
I remembered my friend W.H., and felt a chill. I now knew what happened on the day he disappeared. It was about to happen to me.
I met W.H. my first day on the job. We had the same initials and we shared the same hometown. He said a lot of us ended up in travel work, something to do with the fact that our kind came cheap, worked hard and were easy to replace when the hard work left us bent and broken beyond repair.
I laughed at the time. I didn’t think this job could ever break me.
In the early years W.H. and I went everywhere together. I would have given him the shirt off my back if he’d asked for it, not that he ever would. He wasn’t made that way. One day our employers brought us a new uniform to wear. I didn’t mind the shirt so much, though the heavy fabric made me long for the linens we had worn before. W.H. didn’t complain either, even when his aging shoulders bowed beneath the braided golden epaulets of his fancy coat.
That night, for the first time, I saw how the work had aged my friend. I could tell his working life was almost done. He tried to hold up as before, but late at night he sometimes dropped his coat, sighing with relief as it slipped softly to the floor. I thought I saw his shoulders straighten just a little, enough to make me hope he might spring back to his old form.
But it was a futile hope.
A few nights later I came home from a business trip and he had gone. No one knew where, or even exactly when. He had often considered quitting his job and running away. He dreamed of being on television, and when he didn’t reappear I hoped that he had done it, though I didn’t really believe he had the strength. My friend, though beloved, was old and weak. He wasn’t in good enough shape for another challenge.
Lying there on the closet floor as the shadow blocked the light, I realized W.H. had it right all along. The job did wear us out. We worked until the day when one last job pushed us a bit too far, and then we found ourselves cast off, bent and broken by old age.
The question was, what would they do to me? Would they destroy me on the spot or take me elsewhere to complete the grisly task? I had no strength left to resist them and no way to flee. I lay on the closet floor, trying to resign myself to my unknown fate.
The door drew open. Light flooded the closet, revealing me lying on the floor.
“There.” She pointed. “Take that one too.”
Strong hands lifted me from the carpet and stuffed me into a bag. The light vanished, and for a while I knew no more.
Then I heard singing. It started softly but grew louder as it approached. The voices sang in two-part harmony, their song almost familiar, almost known. By the time they reached my room I remembered where I’d heard that song before, outside my hotel room one Christmas Eve. I hadn’t ventured out to see what it all meant, but I knew the words meant peace and love and home.
As I strained against the darkness, wondering where the end had brought me, a voice said, “Daddy, light the tree!”
Brilliant colors flared around me, red and blue and gold. Silver tinsel hung from arms I barely recognized as my own. They felt different, somehow longer and much stronger than before.
“It’s so beautiful,” the children breathed, “the best we ever had, even though you said we couldn’t afford one this year.”
“I’m just glad you found that website,” the man whispered to his wife, “and all those old wire hangers that we used to make this Christmas tree.”