YeahWrite! is a resource I recently discovered through an awesome Facebook group for writers participating in NYC Midnight’s 2016 Flash Fiction Challenge.
I was one of 20 writers to advance to Round 2 of their Super Challenge #2 flash competition. Yay!
Round 2 began this weekend, and I received the following prompts:
Event: File a complaint.
I had 1000 words to work with, and here’s what I threw together:
Customer Service From Hell
When visiting the Customer Service Desk at Macy’s, don’t complain.
Just don’t, for the love of all that’s holy…
“I’m sorry ma’am,” I said to the woman on the other side of the low counter. “I can’t accept returns without a receipt.”
“That’s ridiculous, I only purchased this yesterday! I demand my money back; the handle is faulty.” She brandished a thousand dollar Gucci handbag as if she intended to strike me with the hideous thing.
I turned to my computer. “I can use your credit card to look up the transaction, process it that way.”
“I didn’t use a card,” she said haughtily. “I paid cash.”
A thousand bucks. Cash.
I tried not to sigh. I sighed anyway.
At least I managed not to roll my eyes.
“I’ve never had a problem with Macy’s customer service in the past,” Gucci Lady said, looking down her aristocratic nose at me. “You must be new.”
Ignoring her disdain, I drawled, “I’m terribly sorry ma’am but it’s company policy not to accept cash purchases for return without a receipt.”
“That’s insulting,” she exclaimed. “Are you suggesting that I stole it?”
I glanced behind her at the two men waiting in line. “I’ll be right with you gentlemen,” I said before returning my attention to Gucci Lady. “Ma’am, I can summon my manager to assist you further, if you wish.”
That got her attention.
“Yes,” she said confidently. “I wish to speak to your manager.”
She seemed triumphant. She had no idea.
“Absolutely, ma’am. It would be my pleasure to call him.”
I lifted the handset of the red phone on my desk, held it to my ear, and waited. I didn’t dial. I couldn’t dial as the phone had no buttons. It had no cord, either.
I simultaneously flushed and shivered at the melodic voice in my ear. It was exhilarating and terrifying to hear him speak.
“Andras,” I said breathily, “I’m sorry to disturb you, but—”
“Gucci handbag, no receipt?”
“Yes, sir,” I said. He always knew the problem, of course.
“I’ll be right up.”
The door behind me opened before I had returned the handset to its cradle and I turned to see Andras enter the customer service area. He wore black and sported a tweed trilby and dark sunglasses.
As odd as his attire might appear to some, his lithe form and olive skin were striking. He was beautiful but he wasn’t happy. I hope I hadn’t caught him napping. Surely a Gucci wasn’t worth this woman’s soul.
“Andras, thank you for coming.” I gestured toward Gucci Lady. “A guest wanted to speak with you regarding–”
“The Gucci, yes.” His attention on the woman appeared to unnerve her and take some of the wind from her sails. “If you could step this way, Mrs. Downy,” he said smoothly.
The woman jerked, likely surprised that he knew her name. He enjoyed surprising them.
Mrs. Downy moved down the counter to stand before Andras and shuffled her weight nervously from one Versace-clad foot to the other. She regained her previous bluster as she dropped the handbag onto the counter.
“I demand satisfaction. I want my money back for this damaged item and I want to complain about her.” Diamonds flashed as she thrust an accusatory finger at me.
“I assure you, she was only following protocol, Mrs. Downy. Of course, you can confirm that you gave us cash in exchange for this item?”
I wanted to watch every glorious moment of the exchange but I turned instead to the waiting men. “May I help you, gentlemen?”
They approached warily and one stared at Andras as the other asked for a credit application. I handed him an iPad to fill out the application and returned my attention to Andras. I sighed happily.
The man watching Andras answered my sigh with one of his own. “Right? I mean, damn.”
“Must you, Boone?” his partner protested, his fingers moving on the iPad.
“I’m sorry Xander, but look at him!”
Xander returned the iPad to me and we all watched as Andras stroked the Gucci’s leather handle.
“It appears to be fine, Mrs. Downy,” he said. “Perhaps you’d rather keep it?”
“I’d rather receive a refund. I’m appalled at the decline in service at this store. All of you young… hipsters or whatever you are, coming in and ruining a great brand. It’s inexcusable.” She sneered. “Stop smiling at me and take off those ridiculous glasses!”
“My apologies, ma’am,” Andras said.
He continued to smile but removed his sunglasses to reveal red eyes. His pupils contracted like those of a cat, narrowing to slits under the fluorescent light.
“Holy shit,” Boone said, taking a step backward toward Xander, who put an arm around him in a protective manner.
Mrs. Downy, a.k.a Gucci Lady, also took a step back. She was shaking her head in denial of what she was seeing, her eyes wide with terror.
“Does my hat also offend?” Andras reached to pluck the hat from his head, revealing not hair but a network of black tattoos that formed hypnotizing patterns across his scalp.
Boone whistled softly and Xander cursed under his breath. They appeared to be more fascinated than frightened, but then Andras had focused his attention on Mrs. Downy and not them.
“Have you changed your mind, then?” Andras held the handbag toward the terrified woman as she took another step away from the counter. “Do you not wish to keep your handbag?”
Mrs. Downy tore her eyes from Andras and looked at me to find me grinning delightedly.
“Who are you p-people? You’re all… insane!”
She fled, the clacking of her heels faltering more than once.
Andras handed me the Gucci and winked, eliciting a blush. My printer chirped as it came to life and began to spit out a printed credit agreement.
“Congratulations, gentlemen,” I said, feeling cheerful. “You’ve been approved for a five thousand dollar credit limit today.”
The men scarcely seemed to hear me as they watched Andras don his hat and sunglasses before disappearing behind the door once more.
11/01/16 – UPDATED WITH JUDGES’ FEEDBACK!
What the judges really liked about ‘Customer Service From Hell’:
- Anyone who’s worked retail will relate to this story, especially this time of year. The humor of the situation played off the mystery of Andras in an intriguing way. You captured Mrs. Downy’s reactions to the employees very well.
- Smooth writing. The prompts are clearly and naturally incorporated into an engaging story.
- The dialogue here clips along at a smooth pace, creating a highly readable scene here. The characters also seem roundly drawn in a small amount of space, which is very effective.
Where the judges found room for improvement:
- There were a few sentences where the meaning was unclear. For instance, “Gucci handbag? No receipt?” Was Andras watching on a camera or is the reader to infer telepathy is another of Andras’s charms? “His attention appeared to unnerve her.” Because he was beautiful? Or because she could see there was something very different about him (if the latter, give the reader a hint, like a tattoo peeking out from under his hat).
- The story continues beyond its punchline. Not every loose end needs to be tied up, and not every word needs to be used.
- None. I tried, and I found nothing to criticize here.