Flash Fiction Contest: Runners-Up

What Happens Next?

Read the winning entry, Heimweh by Dominik Royko.


2nd Place

PIVOt by Wendy McGrath

I pressed the can’s cold tin lip hard against my mouth. Snapped my head back and slammed it. PIVO! That is the name for BEER in this language. In this language there is no verb for ‘to be.’ But I am. I must be. I. Am. Drunk. Pivoting between sense and nonsense. Your face looks like a helicopter. And the other guy thinks in only one direction. NB: My map to the airport is on the back of his head. I was here, unrecognized, inverted between the question you just asked me and the golden arches logo we both wear. Yes, I am. Yes, I was. A to Z. My body feels inconsequential and non-sequential. QFJ. Consonantial. DTK.

Ink and logos and letters and numbers are what we are made of—not hydrogen, water, and carbon. I filled the iron with PIVO, plugged it in and turned it to the hottest setting. It sputtered and bubbled and brooded as I tried to iron my eyebrows and then I realized I existed only in three-quarter profile. I took the chisel from the tray by the A-Z book and all the letters fell away from me. I am not alphabetical. I am not chronological. I dug a half-circle into the block, I mean the side of my head. An ear. I did it by feel. Onto the cartilage of the block, I had carved my face into being. Now you recognize me? You see who I am. Hold still while I steady my grip on this chisel. No, I don’t want to hear you play guitar. It’s mine anyway. No, I don’t want you to read me the obituaries from the paper, turn on the radio, light a cigarette, or make some coffee. Don’t worry I’ll be quick. I am. Going to be quick.

The map disappeared. The helicopter flew away. It made so much noise that the camouflage coveralls turned to bats and headed toward black ink. Logos and leopard print became anonymous and organic and haunted the matrix like a ghost.

When I had chiseled them both to oblivion, I drank another PIVO. Prost. Pivot. Then I made my way to the airport. I had memorized the map.

 


3rd Place

Waiting for the Fourth by Lara Apps

The trio seemed human, but no one sat near them and the staff avoided their table. “You’re looking well, gentlemen,” Misinformation said, raising her can of beer in a salute. The Spanish music playing over the radio wavered out of tune whenever she spoke. “Here’s to new roles.”

“Gotta move with the times, gotta move with the times,” Progress drawled, dreaming of blueprints and a new suburban development built over the farmland outside the city.

Consumption took a drag of his cigarette and blew the smoke out over the room. People in the furthest corners of the café coughed and felt a shadow of pain in their chests. “I miss the old uniform,” he said. “The sword, the horse…”

“That kind of thing doesn’t mean anything to them any more,” Misinformation replied. One of the staff went to fiddle with the radio tuning. “Machines, now, that’s where it’s at. Machines scare the shit out of them.”

“But they love them,” said Progress.

“Oh yes.” Consumption smiled. “They love them to death.”

“Speaking of…”

Misinformation swigged some beer. “There’s a hurricane somewhere. Or is it a typhoon? I can never remember the difference.”

“It’s not as if he can’t be in more than one place at a time,” Progress said. “I mean, he’s everywhere.”

She shrugged. “Do you want to complain to him about his timing?”

“Point taken.”

Consumption looked around the room. “I thought we had them the last time. Remember? But they’re such teases, always coming to the brink of disaster and then wriggling out of it somehow.”

“Not all of them,” said Progress.

“No, not all of them. Good thing, too, or else what would be the point of us turning up?”

Misinformation leaned forward, her face unusually serious. “What is the point of us turning up, do you think? I mean, what are we going to do afterwards?”

“Afterwards?”

She waved a hand. “You know, after the big one. The one they don’t wriggle out of.”

“Never really thought about it,” Consumption muttered.

“It could be today, right? Do we just… disappear, when it’s done? Or get new jobs?”

“Maybe we’ll be downsized,” Progress said with a shrug. “That’s the way it goes.”

They sat in silence for a while. One of the other patrons saw something on their phone and asked the barista to turn the TV on. The Spanish music stopped, replaced by images of a protest somewhere, thousands of people in a wide street with banners and costumes. A couple of huge puppets, caricatures, hovered over the crowd.

“That one looks kind of like you,” Misinformation pointed out to Consumption.

“Cute,” he said. “As if it’s going to do them any good now.”

“They keep dancing,” Progress said.

“What?”

“Haven’t you noticed? It doesn’t matter what happens to them, they find some reason to dance. Happy, sad, whatever. They dance, and make art, and music, and stories. It’s the dancing that always gets me, though. Look, some of them are doing it right now. What’s the point of it?”

They had no answer for him. They watched the news along with the humans in the café, who seemed increasingly distressed.

“Oh look, there he is,” Misinformation said, pointing to the TV.

The march had reached a line of soldiers. Shots were fired. But instead of breaking and running, the marchers kept going. A black helicopter swung low over the crowd, fire spitting from its guns. The people in the café gasped and moaned. The trio smiled.

“Well, he’s going to be busy for a little while,” Consumption said. “Might as well enjoy ourselves while we wait.”

He snapped his fingers to get the staff’s attention.

“A round of beers for everyone.”

The staff and other patrons stared at him. There was gunfire in the street outside and a muffled thump in the distance. The lights went out.

“Drink up, people,” Consumption said. “You haven’t got much time left.”

The café door banged open. A cold, silent presence filled the entrance.

“Sorry, make that no time left.”

The trio got to their feet. The fourth member of their group didn’t say anything. He never had to. They followed him out into the street. Misinformation drained the rest of her beer and tossed the can into the gutter. Consumption lit another cigarette. There was a crunch as Progress trod on an outstretched hand.

The fourth one cracked his polished knuckles, and they got to work.

 


4th Place

PIVOT by Zach Polis

“What happens next?”

“This.”

“This. Well, that’s something…”

“Something. Yeah, it’s something.”

“And me? What happens next to me? God. Cash is burning above our heads right now. Just look up.”

“There’s nothing to see up there. Quit sulking. Get another beer.”

“I can’t.”

“Why?”

“I’m immovable. I had stock options.”

“We all had stock options.”

“Now there’s no options left. I won’t move. I won’t move for nothing.”

“Okay. Catch then.”

“Fine. Thanks.”

“It’s called a nudge.”

“I’ll drink to that, I guess.

“Cheers.”

“Cheers.”

 

***

 

“Oh. Just a sip?”

“Just a sip.”

“Fine. Whatever.”

“I never cared for the outdoors. What is all this? Would you call this the end?”

“This is hardly the end.”

“What would you call it?”

“Not the end.”

“What then?”

“Team building.”

“So it is the end then?”

“No.”

“I used to play flamenco guitar, you know.”

“You’ll have more time for that now.”

“I hope not.”

“You will.”

“I hate this.”

“We all hate this.”

“Honestly, it’s been so long. I don’t remember how to play anything.”

“You’ll pick it up again.”

“I hope not. I hated having long fingernails.”

“What?”

“It was a thing. Never mind. I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Were you any good?”

“Yeah. I was. Kind of. You know what I was really good at? Selling helicopters.”

“Yeah. Well, tough luck. That’s not an option anymore.”

“I miss my glass table.”

“It was just a table.”

“It was better than this.”

 

***

 

“I don’t want to shoot any deer tomorrow.”

“You have to.”

“Why?”

“It’s team building.”

“I don’t want to kill anything.”

“You sold instruments of war.”

“Yeah. Through email. I don’t shoot things.”

“Well, you’ll have to try.”

“I’ll try. But I won’t do it.”

“When you’re going through a career change, it’s best to shoot something.”

“Who gave you that advice?”

“No one. It just felt like the right thing to say.”

“Sounds awful.”

“You just need to remind yourself you can provide for yourself. Just get outside your head.”

“This wasn’t my idea to be here.”

“But you’re here.”

“But I’m here.”

“Yep.”

 

***

 

“Why doesn’t Rick say anything? It’s just the two of us always talking.”

“He doesn’t have too. He’s thinking.”

“Right. He has the map. Are we lost?”

“Does it matter?”

“Not if we find a deer.”

“That’s the spirit.”

“What’s he thinking about?”

“I don’t know.”

“A great, big idea behind his great, big beard?”

“Probably. He is the founder.”

“Was the founder.”

“He’s still a visionary.”

“For some.”

“Man, you’re sour.”

“Forever and ever.”

“Christ.”

 

***

 

“It’s keeping me up at night again.”

“What?”

“This wild, percussive slapping against my head.”

“Well, what do you expect? It’s coffee. It’s midnight.”

“I expected something else.”

“Like?”

“Sleep.“

“Well, that’s not happening.”

“No. It’s not. But this is happening.”

“That’s right. This is happening.”

“It’s nice.”

“See. You’re getting the hang of it.”

“Anyways, I’ll lie down in my tent for a while. Wait for dawn.”

 

***

 

“Um… okay…”

“What?”

“That’s not right.”

“What?”

“That.”

 

***

 

“Oh god.”

“Right?”

“Yeesh.”

“Dead bird.”

“It’s a fucking landmine.”

“Yep.”

“But how?”

“I don’t know.”

“Did you leave the flap open?”

“I didn’t close it.”

“So you left it open?”

“Well, I didn’t close it.”

“Still, that doesn’t explain its head. How the hell did that happen?”

“A cat?”

“Here? In the woods?”

“I don’t know.”

“A cat snuck into your tent in the middle of the woods and took off that bird’s head?”

“I don’t know. It’s possible. What kind of bird is it anyways?”

“A crow.”

“I thought a raven.”

“It’s not big enough to be a raven.”

“It looks big enough to me.”

“It’s a crow.”

“I don’t like it.”

“I don’t either.”

“It’s weird. It’s creepy. I’m sleeping in your tent.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Yes, I am.”

“No, you’re not. You can sleep in Rick’s tent tonight.”

“With Rick? Rick won’t even talk to me.”

“He’s thinking.”

“About what?”

“I don’t know.”

“He hasn’t said a word to us in hours.”

“He’s thinking!”

“About what?”

“Ideas! He’s going to get us out of this mess! Give him time.”

“Fine. But I’m sleeping in your tent tonight.”

“Fine. Just so you don’t mess with his mindspace.”

“Fine. Help me with this bird.”

“No.”

“Please.”

“No.”

“Malerei -”

“Malorie.”

“Malorie. I’m shaky. Please.”

“This is your test.”

“It’s not a test. It’s an omen. A spooky omen. I hate the outdoors.”

“Deal with it.”

“Fine. But this counts at my deer.”

“Fine.”

“Fine.”