This week’s Free Fiction Friday story from UnWrecked Press is “Visons of Suburban Bliss.”
UPDATE: Now that the free week is over, you can read the rest of this story by downloading an ebook at Amazon and Smashwords. Then you can read it on your laptop, desktop, Kindle, iPad, Nook, iPhone, or whatever device you use to read ebooks.
“Visions of Suburban Bliss” was inspired by some long days at the day job, and some commutes back and forth to the day job that somehow felt even longer. It was first published at Gothic.Net, June 2002, and it was an Honorable Mention story in the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror vol. 16.
Visions of Suburban Bliss
Richard Tolliver was proud of the fact that his was the first black family to move into the Olde Carriage Ridgewood subdivision in Cary, North Carolina. His job as an electrical engineer at Implement Telecom in the Research Triangle Park, nestled between the three cities of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, had allowed him to spring past his childhood neighbors from the housing projects of Southwest Raleigh. Many of his old neighbors were still living there, either working one to two hourly, minimum-wage jobs, or working the streets, hustling crack or coke or bags of pot. They’d all been going nowhere fast, Richard knew.
But I made it out, he thought, enjoying the power he felt sitting up high in his Ford Expedition, crawling through eastbound I-40 traffic after work, only seven short miles from home. It was a drive that averaged thirty-five minutes, one way. After escaping the slums of Raleigh, Richard was proud to be able to call himself a resident of Cary.
Richard rolled up his windows and cranked the AC. The humidity of a Southern summer was fast approaching, and he wasn’t ready for it. He’d put on fifteen pounds since moving into the management job at the telecom company, spending more and more time in front of his computer, reading status reports and timesheets instead of working on switches and routers.
But the money was worth it, he’d told himself so many times he thought he’d print it out and tape it to his office monitor. Larissa loves the new house. And with Junior on the way, we’ll need all the extra dough we can get our hands on.
Richard Tolliver leaned back in his massive sports utility vehicle, letting his foot off the break every fifteen seconds, inching closer to his new home in the gated community of Olde Carriage Ridgewood in Cary, North Carolina.
* * *
Thirty-nine minutes later, after creeping through stop-and-go traffic (“Onlooker delays for a three-car accident at the Harrison Avenue off ramp has traffic backed up to the Page Road exit,” the radio announcer shouted every five minutes), Richard waited to make the left turn into his new subdivision.
Gonna need a stoplight here soon, he thought, watching the unending line of cars coming at him. He’d never seen so many Beemers, Mercedes, and Lexuses since moving to Cary. He rolled forward until he was halfway through the intersection, hoping the cars would relent long enough to let him dash across the road.
As the light slipped from yellow to red, Richard punched it. He blasted in front of an oncoming Cabriolet that had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting him head-on. A white hand with the middle finger raised shot out of the honking Cabrio. Five cars behind the Cabrio joined in the raucous chorus. Richard turned hard into the main entrance of his neighborhood, the Expedition rocking like a trailer in a tornado.
Three Mexican men from the landscaping company contracted by the subdivision – operating a lawn mower, leaf blower, and weedeater, respectively – looked up from their equipment for a long moment to stare at Richard. Their gray shirts were stained with sweat, and their dark faces were lost in shadow under the lowered brims of their matching caps.
Richard nodded at the three men and stopped at the eight-foot-high black gate that sealed off his neighborhood from the rest of the small city. Fumbling for his key card in his back pocket, he dropped his overstuffed wallet onto the floor. Credit cards, licenses, and photos spilled out, hitting his dress shoes and sliding under the seat.
The Mexican men had returned to their work, motors buzzing like oversized insects.
When Richard bent to pick up the key card, his right foot slipped off the brake, and he had to slam his foot on the brake to keep his Expedition from running into the gate in front of him. The SUV jerked to a stop, and he smacked his forehead on the steering wheel.
For a split second, Richard saw stars. Blinking hard and shaking his head, he put the car in Park and bent carefully to pick up his key card from the spill of cards around his feet. As he was bent over, he felt the blood rush to his forehead. His vision went black for a moment, and then went white. Finally things came back to normal.
“Oh boy,” he muttered, holding his head. He reached the key card out the door and aimed it at the reader. With his suddenly-blurry vision, it took three tries to get the magnetic strip of the card through the narrow slit of the reader. The gates slid open toward him. He backed up his big SUV to allow them to open all the way.
What a day, he thought, shifting into Drive, his head throbbing. In the rearview mirror, Richard Tolliver saw a faint lump begin to rise on the dark skin of his forehead. It’s enough to make a person lose his head.
* * *