For those who have been following my progress in the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction competition, you’ll have seen my first two entries ‘This Little Piggy Bid at Home‘ and ‘Will, of the People‘ in this blog. Each story placed 3rd, positioned me joint top of my group and entered me into the semi-finals.
I’m delighted/amazed/humbled to announce my semi-final story placed 3rd again, which means I’ve been entered into the finals. In short, I’ve been whittled down from 3,000 writers to 60. The final story has been written and submitted. I’ll hear how that places in mid-January. For now, let me introduce my semi-final story, ‘The Corporate Culling Fields’.
Setting: The Middle of the Ocean
Artefact: A Gavel
Synopsis: Every organisation needs to streamline its workforce from time to time; to cut the deadwood, to trim the fat. What better way to boost company morale and settle office politics, than a team de-building exercise?
The Corporate Culling Fields
It’s just a game. Only a game.
That’s right, Jack, keep telling yourself that. Not easy when fragments of palm tree are burying themselves in the side of your face.
Is it meant to hurt this much? I mean, when the organisers said it was a sensory experience, I was expecting a couple of electric shocks. I can taste the blood in my mouth.
Only a kilometre of shoreline left. It’s closing in faster now. I see the bodies of my fallen comrades bobbing on the waves. They’re not comrades in this game; remember that, Jack. It’s every man, every woman for themselves. Now and then, a body pixelates into nothingness. There goes George from Engineering, next Ellen from the Post-room.
They’ll be watching on the big screen now, tucking into the beers and nibbles, laughing at Mike, the weaselly fecker, peppering me with bullets.
I can’t wait here much longer. I need a way out. But all I’ve got is this lousy wooden hammer. My heads-up display informs me it’s ‘The Gavel of Justice’. Unless it can repel sniper fire, the thing is fecking useless. Why did I let Pat from Accounts sneak up on me like that?
Ahh, the look on their faces as they explored that beach hut, only to find me waiting for them with ‘The Corporate Axe’. How I laughed as I wielded it, watching the dismembered limbs and heads of my co-workers fall to the sandy floor, and pixelate out of existence. Despite my perilous predicament, I chuckle at their bitter cries. ‘You camping bastard, Jack. I’m not countersigning that NDA now.’ ‘I thought we were buddies, mate. You can find someone else to car share with now, you feckerrrrrrrr…’
They’re gone now. Like the beach hut. Like everything else on this island. The approaching virtual wall annihilating everything in its path. Forcing us together. Forcing us to fight. We’re on a postage stamp of an island in the middle of the ocean, and it’s just Mike from Procurement and me. If I’m gonna keep my job, I need to take him down.
I bury my toes in the blood-soaked sand. It’s warm. The bullets stop. A sea breeze carries the smell of iron and napalm into my nostrils. If I didn’t remember fastening the visor onto my head; if I couldn’t feel the implants worming their way deeper into my neural cortex, I’d swear I was in the middle of an actual war zone. A war zone where the last man standing wins a crappy Perspex plaque, but more importantly, the adulation of the boss.
‘We’re embarking on an employee optimisation programme.’ That’s longhand for redundancies. ‘HR have recommended a company event enabling us to reassess our organisational structure.’ Corporate bullshit for, ‘We’re gonna weed out the non-performers, while we observe your behaviour from our ivory tower.’
Things were going so well in the beach hut, too well. Perhaps I got complacent. Then I felt the cold steel of Pat’s knife in my back. She’d never forgiven me for ballsing up her PC upgrade and corrupting her spreadsheets. Thank God Faisal from Marketing took her out with ‘The De-socialising Scimitar.’ Fortunately, Faisal assumed I was a goner. He tipped me a wink, then vanished into the maelstrom, brandishing his blade in bloody fury towards Alan from Sales. Man, he really hated that guy.
I was surprised when I came round, still in the game. I patched myself up with an ‘Occupational Health Pack’ I found at the feet of a pixelating Sally from Public Relations. The only weapon I could find was this crappy gavel. The island appeared empty, so I stumbled around until Mike started taking pot shots at me. I knew it was him from the braying laugh that followed every screaming bullet.
If the annihilating wall is closing in on me, it must be getting close to Mike too. That might give me my chance. I scan the horizon and see an object glimmering in the baking sun. A grenade? My display tells me it’s a ‘Smoke and Mirrors Bomb’. Maybe, just maybe.
Next thing I know, I’m running. Running like hell through acrid smoke that claws at my lungs. Shots ring out. But they’re not followed by annoying laughter. He’s panicking. A sniper rifle is useless at close range; unlike a big fecking wooden gavel…
Mike must see me before I see him. His expression is legendary. I emerge from the suffocating smoke and plant the gavel square into his face. There is a satisfying crunch and a sort of sucking sound as the front of Mike from Procurement’s face caves completely in. That’s for delaying signing those purchasing contracts; that’s for reporting my track-day kickback to HR; that’s ‘The Gavel of Justice’, baby!
The smoke clears. Silence. I have won.
The annihilating wall draws closer, bringing the lapping waves and tightening shoreline with it. Maybe the game needs to process I’m the winner? If that wall touches me, I’m dead.
I start back for the palm tree, the only thing left on this diminishing island. The water is close. I scramble up the palm tree and survey the area. It’s just me, surrounded by a soulless, simulated sea.
I feel the pain before I hear the sound. A single bullet enters my spine, shattering every vertebra. I watch outside myself. Watch my body pixelate into the hazy topaz sky. Simon from Security is announced the winner. He emerges from the trunk of the palm tree. Sneaky fecker.
I watch the scene fade into darkness until I’m surrounded by an impregnable void. Second place should be good enough to keep my job, right?
After all, it’s just a game. Only a game.
But, why aren’t I waking up?