Thursday, May 26, 2011

Five-Hour Charisma

Phil knelt in the dust on the black and white checkered tile. Tiny bottles lay scattered around his knees.

He took another from the shelf, checked the label. Five-Hour Energy. He dropped it and grabbed another. Five-Hour Energy. Another. Five-Hour Energy.


The clerk fidgeted with his green vest and watched with concern from half around the corner.

“Are you sure, sir, I can’t help you find something?”

“No. No. It’s fine. … I’m sorry. I’ll put them all back when I’m finished.”

Phil felt him hovering.

Five-Hour Energy. Five-Hour Energy. Five-Hour Energy.

A few minutes later, he had cleared the entire row. He sat in the jumble of vials and leaned back against the shelves, his head in his hands.

He looked up at the boy, then down again. His face flushed.

“It was here last week, but I guess you’re all out,” Phil mumbled.

He traced a crack in the tile.

“What are you looking for? We might have some in the back.”

“It’s … Five-Hour Charisma. It was here last week.”

The clerk, grinned.“Oh! Yes sir. We do have that in stock. I wish you would have asked me right away. We had to move it behind the counter.”

Phil lit up.

“Just leave that mess. Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it. I can help you at the front.”

They walked through the empty drug store to the register. The clerk knelt behind the counter and unlocked a cabinet.

“How many would you like, then?”

“I’ll take 10, please.” Phil took a $20 bill out of his wallet and set it on the counter while the clerk scanned 10 small blue bottles.

“That’ll be $1,059.89 please.”

Phil started. “Wait. I think you made a mistake. Those were $1.50 apiece.”

“They raised the price. They’re $99.99 a bottle now. Plus tax. That’s why we have them behind the counter. They’re really popular, I guess.”

This was bullshit.

“How can they do that? How can they just raise the price like that? That’s not fair! I need it!”

“I guess it was just a trial offer or something. Sorry.”

He emptied his wallet on the counter. $68.

The clerk looked at the money, then back up at Phil.

“I … I just have that,” he said. “Can you help me out here?”

“I’m sorry.”

His fingers trembled as they fumbled at the strap of his watch.

“Here. This and $68. It’s a good watch.”

The clerk grimaced.

“I’m really sorry, sir. I can’t do that.”

“But, but it’s NOT FAIR! How can they DO that?”

Phil cried as he drove home. There was no way he could meet her in this condition, not as … just Phil. Six months, and he hadn’t found the courage to even say “Hi,” let alone hold up his end of a conversation over the coffee date they had planned for tonight.

Five-Hour Charisma had saved him.

“And then they SCREWED ME!” he slammed his fist into the steering wheel.

He pulled over, got out of the car, and sat on the curb. He couldn’t see her like this. He’d be naked, exposed for the mundane, uninteresting, ashamed man that he is.

Someone tapped his shoulder.

“Honey, are you OK?” an elderly woman looked at him with concern.

“I’m fine. Just go away.”

Phil stared at his shoes as he composed himself. He stood and walked down the sidewalk. He began to jog as he approached the old woman from behind. He grabbed her purse. She held on.


He kicked her hard in the hip, and she sprawled onto the lawn. He shot back to the car with the purse swinging wildly beside him. He got in, pulled a U turn and sped back to the drug store.

Phil emptied the contents onto the passenger seat. He sat with the engine off in the parking lot for a long while before picking out two $20 bills.

What’s done is done.

He slowly got out of the car and entered the drug store.

“Oh you’re back!”

Phil carefully counted out the money on the counter. “One bottle, please.”

The clerk handed him a blue vial. He unscrewed the lid, put it to his lips, and threw back his head. A warm sensation radiated from his belly out through his limbs to his fingertips and toes. Everything was brighter; the store flashed in blue and red light.

“Halt! Stop right there! Don’t move!” A woman shouted. Two officers stood in the doorway.

“Hi! Is there a problem?” Phil said.

“Mugging an old lady, I’d say that’s a problem. Put your hands on the counter.”

The clerk backed up as Phil placed his hands down in front of him. The woman grabbed his left wrist and cranked it behind his back. His face flattened on the countertop. She grabbed his other wrist and locked the cuffs.

He looked up at her, his face still pressed against the counter.

“Damn, honey, I think you broke my arm.”

“I’m real sorry.”

“Well, I’m gonna need you name and phone number. For insurance reasons, of course.” He winked.

She looked at her partner. “Jesus. ANOTHER one.”
Three Word Wednesday prompt: grin, jumble, naked


  1. I moan when something goes up a dollar. It doesn't look as though the high priced stuff is working on the female cop though. This is a delightful post. Thanks for your visit to me.

  2. Interesting story. Lots of twists I wasn't expecting.

  3. Poor Phil! I don't think there's enough of that stuff to help him out now. I bet that lady officer is going to have a long night.

  4. poor Phil but then he did mug what was an old lady so he didn't deserve the poor Phil

  5. what he thought was an old lady Great story

  6. Amusing story! I liked his charm at the end and found it funny that she wasn't affected by his "charisma" at all. =)

  7. @oldegg: I tried to set this one as a different kind of drug addict. Not sure if it worked.

    @earlybird Thanks for the comment. Glad it kept your attention.

    @VL Sheridan: I don't know if charisma will help you in jail!

    @FearNottheDarkness: Was it clear that the old lady and the cop were different people? I really struggled with how to make it plausible that the cops could get there while he was still at the store. Maybe I should slow it down more as he digs through the purse. I'm going to think on that.

    @Hannah: Thanks! Kind of a lame pickup line, I know.

  8. You can almost hear the incessant "Five Hour Charisma" commercial pitch in the background of this. The product naming is perfect. I like the zany place you took this.

  9. @John: Thanks. I like the plot, I'm not sold on the execution. I'm probably going to keep editing while it's online.

  10. I liked the payoff, but it's curious that he may have lacked for charisma, but he certain has a personality throughout. Slightly flummoxed by this, I think it was being unable to decide on the tone intended, comedic or slightly more serious?

    marc nash

  11. That was a fun read - let's call it 'grey humour'. Did it work? It did for me!

  12. @Sulci Collective: Really useful feedback. I want this one to work, because I like the premise, but I’m going to keep tinkering. Maybe I should dull him down a little.

    @Old Altonian: Glad you liked it! I had trouble categorizing it as well.

  13. Typical pusherman ... give 'em a taste and then run up the price when they've got to have it. Apparently it doesn't work on everyone, though. Kinda sad he didn't have the confidence to be himself ... would probably have been a lot more attractive. Like Eddie Murphy in the Nutty Professor.

  14. Haha, great concept and a fun read, it's a shame the store doesn't sell bottles of "five hour innocence" too. :)

  15. This is great! I love the ending, though I suspect the story might get a bit hairy if it continued to the jail cell.

    Please come check out my three words.

  16. I really liked this one. Trial offer! HA! Reminded me of the movie Limitless. Just how far will you go to be your better self. Good theme to write about. It would be fun to create a entire cast of characters around this drug.

  17. @Janet: Get 'em hooked and reel 'em in!

    @Steve: We could all use a bit of that, I suppose.

    @Alice: Yeah, that might get a bit dark.

    @Lara: I could see that. Outgoing and interesting by night, cowering by day.

  18. What a fun story, Matt. I love his desperate fall and his failed charisma at the end. Great job!

  19. What was he planning to do if the object of his desire actually liked the charismatic him, dose himself on it for the rest of his life? It seems he is at the top of a very slippery slope.

  20. What a creative story! I really liked the metaphor

  21. Good one. It's all for the best, anyway. Sounds like he'd have screwed it up with her without the drink. Self-fulfilling prophecy and all...

  22. Great story with good detail and realistic dialogue.

  23. Nicely done - really enjoyed the addiction/charisma overlaps.

  24. Haha, wonderfully funny and raises some interesting issues.