Luckey Haskins

I have often thought of trying my hand at fiction writing but never had the guts to really put pen to paper as they say. I often have weird inspirations about characters and plots, however, and sometimes kick them around in my head. The concept of the story below has been in my head since grad school. Given that this is a literary blog and all, I thought I would give the short story thing a try. Results below, please hold the rotten vegetables, but constructive criticism would be appreciated.


As Luckey Haskins sped past the exit he felt the familiar pang of anger, regret, and sadness that welled up whenever he saw his name spelled out in that peculiar glow-in-the-dark white lettering on a green background. But tonight mixed in with those familiar feelings was a jolt of excitement.

Some people would like to see their name up in lights, Luckey had his printed by the Department of Transportation. Born Robert James Haskins but nicknamed “Luckey” before he could remember, he had taken that exit hundreds of times and each time felt a cocktail of mixed emotions. The story goes: A couple of months after his parents moved to the farmhouse on the county road that lead to the town that bore their name, they had a son. Shortly thereafter his parents noticed the exit sign and Robert was “Luckey.”

The jokes flowed freely all through grade school and into high school. Heading south from Toledo on the expressway anyone wanting to visit Haskins – the town or the family – would take the exit that bestowed upon Luckey his unique burden. After pulling off the highway the traveler was presented with two choices: left would send them towards the tiny town of Luckey, a right would put them on the road to the equally obscure Haskins.

The problem with this cute joke – his parents always got a kick out of it – was that unless you were “lucky” being named “Luckey” was rather a drag. The cruelty of kids insured that the irony of every conceivable situation was pointed out to you ad infinitum. As anyone with a peculiar name can attest this gets old. The pressure to live up to your name begins to wear on one’s psyche. These type of names are fine for the children of move stars or rock musicians but for ordinary people the expectations run to high. Or at least that is what Luckey told himself as he got older; it wasn’t him it was them.

The highway always taunted Luckey. Its false promise of freedom and escape always whispering to him, hinting at the larger world outside the flat fields and straight county roads. His parents worked in the factory nearby but had always hoped he might make it to college – even if it was the state school a couple of miles away. Luckey’s inability to focus – his constant day dreaming about proving everybody wrong and catching up with the novelty of his name – doomed him to mediocrity. College seemed like another place to fail; not far enough away to be an escape and not comfortable enough to be a refuge.

The highway was always there, its monotonous humming sound blocked out but there nonetheless. But Luckey never used the highway to escape despite years of threats and promises to leave. Instead he drove north to Toledo and returned to the same damn exit everyday. The highway was drudgery and monotony not freedom and openness.

After his parents died and left him the farmhouse Luckey told himself he would pull himself together and change. But change is a lot harder than it looks and Luckey felt life was precarious enough without rolling the dice on a new town and a new life. Despite his tendency to daydream his imagination didn’t seem powerful enough to take him past the horizon. Mediocrity was better than uncertainty.

So life drifted on and his truck began to rust. Until tonight. Tonight Luckey felt like he needed to get away; felt the pain was sharp enough to prod him to finally strike back at the highway. Luckey had lost a lot of things in his life; money, jobs, friends, even his parents. But losing his dog – his constant companion for the last 15 years – was too much.

It seemed as though his past sped past his mind’s eye as he sped past the exit. His emotions seemed to pull him towards that exit in an almost physical way. But he was determined to put distance between him and that exit and to find a space to heel old wounds. Tonight he wasn’t going to worry about anything; he was going to let the highway take him where ever it led. He was going to jump the ruts that trapped him and declare his independence. At least until Findley . . .

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season - oh, and watching golf too).

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2 Comments

  • Hi,
    I think what you have here is an interesting bit of backstory — a bit of history that you needed to write in order to have Luckey tell you what comes next.

    The first paragraph captures the excitement of change, a drama about to unfold, but then the story meanders back through Luckey’s birth and childhood. There’s lots of good imagery there, but it’s just background to me.

    Your story, for me, begins somewhere in the next-to-last and last paragraphs (and the first paragraph). What does Luckey do differently this time? Why? Consider using the reactions of the townspeople to convey that separateness that Luckey always felt, their surprise that he’s broken the mold or whatever.

    Weird inspirations are wonderful. Use them, keep them, put them down on paper. They kick around in your head so long because they want to be told.

    All of the above is simply my opinion. I have no professional experience to impart, just suggestions and recommendations of the interested stranger.

    If you read fiction, look at how your favorite authors structure their stories. Where do they put the exciting bits (scene/conflict)? How do they treat backstory? You might be surprised to discover how little flashback is used, especially in short fiction. Take the time to notice details.

    If you don’t usually read fiction, you might consider picking up a library copy of some of the yearly prize-winning short story anthologies, like the O Henry or Pushcart or 2003 Year’s Best American Short Fiction.

    Good luck!
    L

  • Think of it this way; a lot of the paragraphs are summaries. You’ve got some good descriptive ideas working, especially the sense of the highway rolling through the flat landscape that both taunts and promises. It’s the old show and tell; if the truck has rusted, a lot of time has passed and with it, Luckey’s life. Why tonight?
    This is a good outline of a story. I’d like to see what keeps him from rolling down the highway.