My prompts for this 48-hour, 1000-word story were: a comedy, set in a bottling plant, featuring a top hat.
Synopsis: Annie’s romantic aspirations are dampened by her dreary day job, and she’s unsure how to move forward with her online relationship. Her English beau, Gareth, is about to make a grand romantic gesture, but things don’t go quite as planned.
Cherry Berry Lick-A-Licious
Lord Abernathy’s piercing gaze blazed across the ballroom, the fire in his azure eyes burning a trail directly to Lady Annabelle’s loins. With a swish--
The shift whistle screamed, breaking Annie’s concentration. She stopped typing and clicked save on her latest story before stowing the laptop in her locker. Tucking blonde curls into her hairnet, she hurried out to the bottling floor.
Doreen was already seated at the conveyor belt, wearing a novelty sweatshirt featuring a splay-legged cat grooming its huge, hairy testicles under the words SEND NUDES.
“How they hangin’ Doreen?”
“Long and loose and full of juice.” Doreen hoisted a breast in each hand and jiggled.
The production line lurched into motion, sending plastic bottles streaming past Annie and Doreen’s Quality Control Station. They were a good team, keeping each other alert with chit chat or shin kicks (when necessary) so their accuracy rating didn’t suffer. Being demoted to Taste-Tester was unthinkable. The thought made Annie shudder.
Doreen peeled a wad of peppermint gum off her stool and popped it into her mouth. Both women donned their nose plugs as the unmistakable scent of Cherry Berry Lick-A-Licious filled the air. It wasn’t quite as bad as Woo Woo Watermelon, but going without plugs was still inadvisable.
“Talk that hoity-toity Englishman into meetin’ yet? Ever gonna let ‘im beat around your bush?” Doreen laughed until her Wrigley’s threatened to launch.
“Not yet. At least on Skype I can enjoy his dreamy accent and gorgeous blue eyes. After two years, I’m getting impatient. But it’s a huge commitment to fly to another country when we’ve never actually met. Online dating is tricky, I wanna do this right.”
“Riiight,” said Doreen.
Gareth had successfully evaded the security guards thus far, but the difficult bit was yet to come and he was already sweating in his tuxedo. He took off his dove grey top hat to check that the ring, purchased at a lovely shop on Minge Lane, was wedged safely in the ribboned hat band. Satisfied, he gave his ensemble one final look—hoping Annie would recognize his homage to My Fair Lady—and wrenched open the back door of the factory.
Hit with a cloying faceful of fruit, he nearly packed it in right then. Annie always refused to provide details about her factory work. Gareth couldn’t imagine what concoction would require such a fragrance.
The machinery was so loud he feared his plan would be ruined. He scanned the hair-netted employees, but saw no Annie. He’d just have to get on with it and hope for the best.
Breathing shallow to avoid gagging, he burst forth, sliding across the floor on his slick-bottomed shoes.
“I have often walked down the street before,” he crooned, vibrato on full.
“But the pavement always stayed beneath my feet before…”
No one could hear his song with all the racket!
The rotund shift manager, walking above on the metal catwalk in a penguinated waddle due to the shockingly low inseam on his trousers, glared down at him. Gareth sang directly to the man, playing to his audience of one, as it were.
The manager blanched, and with wary eyes on the tuxedoed intruder, slammed the red EMERGENCY STOP button with a meaty palm.
The motors and rotors and belts wound down with a clanky rattle. All eyes raised to the manager. He pointed accusingly, and the employees swiveled in unison from him to Gareth, as if watching a tennis match.
Gareth held back a bilious cherry-imbued burp and launched into song once again, searching for Annie.
“People stop and stare, they don't bother me...”
There she was! That beautiful, kind-eyed visage! Joy propelled him forward.
“For there's nowhere else on earth that I would rather be.”
Hurk! went his gag reflex. But his midday pudding stayed blessedly put.
He kneeled at her feet, pulling off his hat and throwing his arms wide before delivering the song’s closing line.
“Let me be on the street where you live.”
He almost forgot the final words as his gaze was torn away to follow a tiny metal object that arced through the air toward a large open vat. The song’s conclusion was punctuated by a dreadful blerp. With a sick feeling that had nothing to do with the miasma in the air, he looked at his hat-in-hand and saw—with a horror usually reserved for gentlemen donning seersucker post-Labor Day—that the ring was gone.
“Gareth, you’re... here!” Annie lifted him off his knees and locked him in a fierce hug.
“Darling! My heart lifts at your nearness, but I regret that the engagement ring I hoped to slip onto your lovely finger has landed over, erm, there... in that rather large… quite odorous… vessel.” He pointed at the steel vat squatting behind the bottling line. “What do you make here, anyway?”
A blush spread from Annie’s cheeks to her ears.
“Um, pers-mumble lu-mumble.”
“It’s lube!” yelled Doreen. “Sex sauce! Penis paint! Per-son-al lu-bri-cant.”
After recovering from this unexpected information—not to mention Doreen’s delivery—Gareth stripped off his jacket and set his hat atop Annie’s head. He climbed the vat’s ladder and dove into the pool of Cherry Berry Lick-A-Licious Personal Lubricant™ with a terrific splat.
Annie, dodging the rain of lube, suffered a moment of indecision. This was a huge step, and he hadn’t even consulted her. How unlike him! How... bold and delightful! She made it up the ladder as he emerged from the pink ooze like a crowning calf, covered in gelatinous goo. Annie pulled him close and wiped the gunk from his face, combing dark hair out of his eyes. Snugging her nose plugs tighter, she gave him a long, lube-a-licious kiss.
“He’s a keeper,” Doreen yelled. “Don’t let ‘im go. Well, hose ‘im down first... or not. Whatever you kids’re into.”
Annie broke their embrace but quickly became captivated by Gareth’s piercing gaze. The fire in his azure eyes burned a trail directly to her loins.