Write a story with a cliffhanger ending.
The door opened with the lady on the other side. She wasn’t cute, but she had smiled at him when he slid his pack of spearmint gum across the counter to be rung up and paid for with a crumpled dollar. Gerald felt guilty for judging her looks, he’d been on the short end of that enough times to know better.
“Back for more gum?” It was the fourth time in two days he’d been in the store, and she had noticed him. A thrill in his gut rendered him unable to decide whether a fourth identical purchase would be worse than obviously changing his mind and picking some other random thing. He sheepishly handed over another dollar and added another pack of gum (wintergreen this time) to his pocket. “Have a good day!” she called after him. He couldn’t bring himself to turn and respond.
Namir was waiting for him around the corner. “Did she notice you?” He didn’t want to share that moment just yet, so Gerald just gave him the information he really wanted. “The bathroom is in the back, to the right as you face the beer fridge. In the hallway that leads to the back exit.” The two of them walked back toward the entrance.
The door opened and Namir was the first one through, shouting and swearing. She ducked behind the counter, more frightened of the sudden noise than his threats. Gerald stood frozen in the door. In an instant, Namir was behind the counter, emptying the cash register. Gerald backed out of the doorway and stood behind the pay phone. If she looked out from behind the counter, she wouldn’t be able to see him.
From that vantage point he had a clear view of the police car turning onto the street about two blocks away and driving toward the convenience store.
DK: It feels a little more clinical than some of the others; the buildup is there but it’s a little more distant, so I don’t find myself as immediately invested. But otherwise, it’s a strong situation and setup.
4 points out of 5
K: Ah, I like Gerald. He’s ripped straight from The Wire – this story doesn’t make it easy to understand whether you should be rooting for or against him. A convenience store robbery isn’t a great cliffhanger on its own, but with this added layer it becomes far more interesting.
4 points out of 5
I have never seen a single minute of The Wire, but to hear other descriptions of it, if my characters sound like they are coming out of that show, I must be doing something right. Spooky mentioned the added layer of ambiguity about Gerald, but I thought I would point out one more layer that could easily be missed. The door opens twice in the story, once to reveal the lady, and once to admit Namir (Namir is a common arab name, but also the Arabic word for ‘tiger’). So when Gerald sees the police coming he has to decide who he’s going to help, the Lady or the Tiger. A little homage from me to perhaps the definitive example of a cliffhanger short story.
(NOTE: to be clear, I’m not complaining that the judges missed something. They read the story as I wanted it. I just toyed around with the little homage, and so wanted to have somewhere where it was pointed out)