“The Shifter” by Dantzel Cherry
We’d like to present a new Feature Story here at Metro Fiction. Please check the Metro Fiction page for more information about us.
Sometimes pretending to be something you’re not can be profitable.
Please enjoy our Feature Story: “The Shifter” by Dantzel Cherry
The gas station was empty with the exception of Andrea, sitting outside on the wooden bench in a mini-skirt and a work-issued button-up shirt pulled tight to show curves, cleavage, and just a hint of her taut midriff. She ignored the suffocating summer heat. Her Navaho dark eyes surveyed the red-brown dust tossed up by the approaching blue sedan and moving van, and she knew it was time to Shift from Andrea to David.
Away slid the perfect hips and full lips and in came the aged masculine face and lean muscles of a warrior past his prime, and in the wrong century. The mini-skirt became faded jeans, while the work shirt loosened and disrespected the wearer with its corporate logo. David knew others like himself – Shifters, Soothers, and Duplicators – were involved in larger level scams, but he knew it wasn’t safe to go big unless you had a team in a city worth the work.
It had only been a few moments, but David checked down the road to make sure his assumption had been correct. Swirling dust mostly hid the van’s occupants from view, but David could see enough to know they were perfect – a woman in her mid-thirties driving an old but well-maintained sedan with a couple of children in the back seat. Undoubtedly, he would see the husband appear in the moving van when the dust settled down.
David limped as quickly as he could towards the second of the two pumps, gesticulating for the sedan to pull up so that the van could pull behind. His sycophancy bothered travelers, but they always worked when paired with his limp and charming native behavior. David wasn’t concerned that the white couple would give him anything less than $40.
When the sedan pulled up David was already holding the nozzle. The woman opened her door and started to get out. A breeze from the hot wind wafted the scent of coffee, probably the only thing fueling her cross-country trip.
“Please,” David said, holding up his hand in what a man from Alabama had called the ‘Indian how.’ “You have a longer road to travel. Enjoy the shade.”
The woman obviously wanted to argue, but just then one of the toddlers in the back seat wailed for a drink. She shut her door and sagged back in the driver’s seat. David inserted the nozzle and limped over to greet the equally-tired husband pulling up in the moving van.
The husband was content to sit inside and let David do the work. As David set the gas pumping into the van, the man called from his seat, “I never want to lift another box in my life, man. I hate moving.”
David didn’t smile at the man’s exhausted declaration. He never smiled. But he locked his gaze with the reflection of the husband in the rear-view window. David nodded slowly, solemnly. He knew this expression made him look wise. He turned away just before the husband felt too uncomfortable, and limped back to the blue sedan to check the oil and tire pressure.
Finally, it was time to pay. The husband followed David inside the gas station and David rang the totals for both vehicles up while the husband fished his wallet out. David waited. Now came the generous tip.
“I appreciate the extra attention you gave our cars-” he squinted at David’s nametag, “-David, and you deserve a little extra for your service, especially out in this hellish-“
In stalked the wife, balancing one screaming girl on each hip.
David sensed his chances of a large tip had decreased significantly. He stared sullenly at the screaming children. Shifting into a monster for a moment or two would be satisfying revenge.
She dumped the younger screaming girl into her husband’s arms.
“There’s no ice in the cooler,” the wife said in the dangerously low tone. “I told you to fill the cooler with fresh ice when we got to the motel last night.”
“Okay, well, I forgot. Sorry. Let’s just pick up sandwiches and get back on the road. We can probably make it to Amarillo tonight if we go now,” the husband said, bouncing his daughter a little faster.
“But look at the prices!” the wife said, lowering her voice and shooting a quick glance at David. “We can’t afford these.”
“Let’s pay and be done,” the husband sighed. His wife glared but grabbed four sandwiches for David to scan.
The register beeped.
“I’m sorry. Your card was declined,” David said, and meant it. He’d seen plenty of people down on their luck, but something about this young family was starting to tug at his Shifter’s heartstrings.
The woman looked at her husband, eyebrows raised. “If we can’t pay for gas or food, how are we paying for the hotel tonight?”
“I – I thought – the company said-”
David couldn’t stand it anymore. He pulled a box out from under the counter and rolled the numbers in the combination until the lock clicked open, revealing a large wad of cash in ones, fives, tens, and twenties. He thrust all six hundred and fifty dollars out to the couple.
The couple stared at the bills in David’s hand. Even the daughters paused their wailing for a moment and looked. David knew how they felt – he couldn’t believe he was going to give them all of his savings, either. The man held out a hand to stop the gift, but David pressed the wad into his hand.
“Please. Enjoy your journey,” he spoke with all the faux Native American solemnity he could dredge up.
The couple stared at him, then each other, and burst into tears. Eventually the family exited the building, wailing toddlers in tow. David followed them out to sit on his bench. The husband shook David’s hand, thanked him again, and got into the moving van. Both parents waved one more time and drove away.
Thinking of his now-empty cash-box, he groaned. What had gotten into him?
A mile down the road, Livie and Sophie were still screaming.
“That’s enough, girls. Enjoy your sandwiches,” the woman in the blue sedan said, soothing their emotions. They smiled at her, the tears and noise of a moment before forgotten. She gave her husband a thumbs-up in the rear-view mirror, which he returned. It had been another successful pit stop.
Dantzel Cherry is a dance/yoga/Pilates teacher, a writer, a wife, and a mom. She loves it all. Her work has also appeared or is forthcoming in Penumbra and Fireside. You can read more about her on her website or follow her on Twitter.
Tags: dantzel cherry, metro fiction, short stories