JJ picked out his successor in the final week of school. Operator of the still, dispenser of cheap booze to the best parties and the most popular kids all over the town; it was a heavy responsibility, but one with significant perks. JJ’s chosen inheritor, Louie Mint – or just ‘the Mint’ – was a young mover and shaker, a kid on the edge of things, like JJ had been himself, and his mentor before him. The keepers of the still were all like that. Kids who sat outside the hierarchy, without being damaged by it — the kid who gets along with the jocks and the nerds and everyone in between, usually because he’s selling something to all of them. Everyone likes him, but nobody quite knows where he fits in.
Louie the Mint was one of those kids. JJ approached him in the car park one warm afternoon. They exchanged nods and ’hey’s, and made cool small talk for a minute or two. Then JJ opened negotiations.
“I’ve got something that’ll interest you, Mint,” he said.
The Mint arched an eyebrow. JJ knew the look; for guys like the two of them, it meant the Mint was bursting with excitement. Good. It made JJ’s job easy, though he hadn’t expected it would be hard. Proprietorship of the still is a coveted prize. Most likely the Mint had been hoping for the approach for weeks.
“Step inside,” said JJ, and he vaulted the door of his convertible and turned the key. The Mint leapt in on the other side. JJ gunned it and they cruised out of town, past the lake to the hidden location of the still. JJ didn’t bother with a blindfold, or some other pretence at secrecy. This wasn’t an interview; the Mint was the only candidate, and he had all the skills. He wouldn’t say no.
JJ went over the operation, and the important part: in a year’s time, the Mint was to find his own successor, and hand over the reins. To someone like them; someone with the right attitude. The Mint agreed, hiding his eagerness beneath cool self-assurance. JJ drove him back to town, knowing there was no need to extract promises of discretion. Piles of money would be dancing in Louie’s head already. Later, JJ drove back out to the still.
He was tired, which wasn’t something he was used to. He didn’t like it much. For twelve months, the still had been feeding on JJ’s cool, until there was almost nothing left. It happened to all of them — the still sucked up their attitude and chutzpah and devil-may-careness, and fed it out in the spiced-up moonshine. JJ’s predecessors usually ended up thin, drawn-out replicas of who they’d been at seventeen; they lived on without imagination, becoming the town’s accountants and driving instructors; they joined the school boards and ran the utilities.
That life was not for JJ. He took the other path, the one sometimes chosen by the keepers who were worst affected and most reluctant to give in. He’d wrestled with it for weeks, tried to bring himself to burn down the shack, or just drive away, but the still won in the end. He set up a last batch: he crawled inside the great copper bowl, and laid down, empty and alone. When he returned, the Mint would find the still cleaned and quiet and ready to go, but for the moment, JJ lay and breathed quietly and waited. The device would consume him. Dissolve him. Absorb him. His breathing slowed, and soon, he became…still.
Longer version of the story I entered into the Star Twister 18 competition. I’m not sure it’s as tight as the 250 word version, but it probably explains things better.