Chris has written more than 300 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.
When I step onto the hay wagon, I know this holiday evening will end in a disaster. It is a sixth sense. I know danger is at hand. I feel terror before there is any reason to be afraid.
Eighteen bales of hay surround the perimeter of the flatbed on the first tier. Eighteen more are on top of the second and more on top of those, effectively blocking any view outside. Inside, sixteen more added to the others form a seat and back. An old farmer named Zeke, wearing a straw hat, sits inside the cab of the John Deere tractor.
The name, Zeke, makes him sound like a country hick with sixty-five acres of swampland. In reality, he is a cunning agricultural businessman who has employed the services of Aaron-Fishbach Investment Bank for several years. Times have been hard for farmers, and Zeke’s enterprises have suffered considerable losses for which he holds Aaron-Fishbach Bank responsible. Zeke seemed to be showing good faith by hosting this event.
Everyone on this wagon is an employee of Aaron-Fishbach Investment Bank. Tension has been running high at work for a long time. We need something to help us chill out before we start killing each other. I’m exaggerating, of course.
Investment banking is a competitive business. It is cutthroat, vicious, barbarous, dog-eat-dog, and any other cliched synonyms you can name. It is an example of capitalism-gone-freaking-wild.
Other regional investment banks are gunning for Aaron-Fishbach. They want us to fail. There is a bullseye painted on the backside of every AF employee. And for every one of us, there are multiple people on staff with other banks who would go to great lengths to bring us down. One or two would do just about anything.
Thirty-five people wearing Halloween costumes sit down on the bales of hay and begin to talk in small groups. The buzz and hum of the conversation are intoxicating to those who hope the coworkers will learn to get along.
Someone starts singing Row, Row, Row Your Boat. Before long, we’re singing in rounds. I even hear some four-part harmony. Next is Ninety-nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall, followed by Oh, Susanna. Some thoughtful person has printed out all the lyrics.
In my small group is Sydney Powers. If she had competed in a beauty contest, Sydney would have won Miss Congeniality, Miss Humble Soul, and Miss Raging Beauty. She is an exceptional woman. Next to her is a very unexceptional man named Randall Finster. At this moment, he unleashes his full repertoire of ways to offend a woman while attempting to attract her. This includes lighting up one of his miniature cigars. Sydney, and everyone within earshot, are nearly as impressed as Zeke had been when he heard Randall had been handling most of his investments during the downward slide.
Alice Baldwin is sitting next to Randall. She has a perfect view of his back, which is the side of men she sees most. She is not homely, but she isn’t pretty. Alice is a plain Jane. She is as sweet as honey and as generous as a drunken congressperson. But constant rejection has planted the seed of bitterness in her heart.
That is just a sampling of the whole group. We are regular people. Did I mention it is a costume party? We are celebrating the harvest season and Halloween at the same time. Our office employs thirty-five people. Everyone and I mean everyone works hard. There isn’t a foot-dragger in the bunch. Hence, all the tension that has built up lately. We are thirty-five hardworking, high finance minded people.
Zeke is driving down a country road featuring a covered bridge that spans a creek bed. Halfway through, he stops to let us enjoy the blackness of the enclosed bridge at night. The walls and rafters amplify the rattling of the diesel engine. After about two minutes, the ride proceeds. We exit the bridge and continue on our way.
As the tractor accelerates out into the moonlight, two things catch my attention. First is a small device that rouses my curiosity, cradled in something round. I can’t quite make it out in the darkness. It sits in a vacant space between two people on a bale of hay. Second is the empty tractor cab. Zeke has gone missing.
My sixth sense is in overdrive. I stand and take a few steps forward that must look like I’ve been sipping rum in the shadows.
Bales of hay block my path at the front of the wagon. I have adrenaline, intuition, and my sixth sense, but I have no plan. The wagon rocks from side to side as we run over them. I stare down at the five-foot tongue that hitches the flatbed to the tractor. At a turn in the road, the agrarian juggernaut crashes straight ahead through the ditch into an open field of recently mown clover. The stubble is a blur as it races beneath the wagon.
One foot goes on the four-inch-wide wagon tongue followed by another in front of it. I keep moving until I get hold of an appendage of the tractor and climb upward.
The image of unidentified objects sitting on a bale of hay haunt my mind as I press on the tractor’s clutch and disengage the gears. I climb down and run to help my terrified coworkers off the wagon.
We stand back and watch the scene against the moonlit backdrop. For a few seconds, it is a surreal, quintessential moment of America’s agricultural history. But the wagon and tractor become a pyre of diesel and dry hay ignited by vengeance and a homemade bomb that had been placed inside an upside-down straw hat along with a box of miniature cigars.
© 2020 Chris Mills