The Hayride, A Short, Short Suspense Story - LetterPile - Writing and Literature
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The Hayride, A Short, Short Suspense Story

Chris has written more than 200 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.

the-hayride-a-short-short-horror-story

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.

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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.

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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.

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© 2020 Chris Mills

Comments

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on July 01, 2020:

Dora, you never disappoint me with your wonderful comments. The "interlude" you mentioned was real-life-stuff mixed in with a bizarre tale. Zeke is probably enjoying a Redneck Riviera on some island in the middle of a 65 acre swamp.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on July 01, 2020:

Liz, yes, feel that too. There are multiple directions the story could have taken. Thanks for your encouraging comment.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on July 01, 2020:

Chris, you managed to enclose the horror within a beautiful frame: "against the moonlit backdrop." I like the interlude you create with Sydney and Randall, Alice and Jane. Glad that you saved the Halloween bunch. Where is Zeke "cunning agricultural businessman?"

Liz Westwood from UK on June 29, 2020:

This turns into a real terror ride. There are so many back-stories that you touch on, it's a real tinder box waiting for an event to light the fuse.

Ann Carr from SW England on June 29, 2020:

Good! I'm glad about that, Chris.

Ann

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on June 29, 2020:

No, Ann, you didn't stir it up. Everyone, beginning with my beta reader, had quite a few questions after reading. Thanks for your comments about publishing our experiments because I'll probably just go right on doing it.

Ann Carr from SW England on June 29, 2020:

So I figured it out in the end, just about. You did plant the clues, Chris, so please don't feel like Dr Frankenstein! I just missed them the first time, but when I went back over it I kinda sussed what happened. The only reason for the tractor starting up but Zeke not being there when it emerged from the tunnel, was that he did it and scarpered! Obvious!

I think it's great to publish experiments; it helps us hone our work. It's also brave. I love the story anyway, like I said at the start. The descriptions were spot on and I felt like I had a clear view of everyone. I feel like I've stirred it up a bit here - sorry.

Looking forward to more.

Ann

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on June 29, 2020:

John, thanks. Yes, Zeke did it. Glad you could make some sense of it. haha

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on June 29, 2020:

Ann, I often have to ask myself why I post my writing experiments. Regarding this story, I feel a bit like Dr. Frankenstein.

Here's how the story is resolved in my mind. When Zeke stopped on the bridge, he planted the bomb on the bale of hay along with his hat and some of Randall's little cigars. He wanted to punish the company for ruining his business, but he also wanted to express who, in particular, he blamed. Of course, that was Randall. After planting the bomb, Zeke put the tractor in gear and got off before it exited the covered bridge. But everyone lived thanks to the narrator's sixth sense. Everyone also knew about the hat and cigars. Zeke had not counted on everyone seeing his bit of symbolism.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on June 29, 2020:

Ann, I often have to ask myself why I post my writing experiments. Regarding this story, I feel a bit like Dr. Frankenstein.

Here's how the story is resolved in my mind. When Zeke stopped on the bridge, he planted the bomb on the bale of hay along with his hat and some of Randall's little cigars. He wanted to punish the company for ruining his business, but he also wanted to express who, in particular, he blamed. Of course, that was Randall. After planting the bomb, Zeke put the tractor in gear and got off before it exited the covered bridge. But everyone lived thanks to the narrator's sixth sense. Everyone also knew about the hat and cigars. Zeke had not counted on everyone seeing his bit of symbolism.

Riffat Junaid from Pakistan on June 28, 2020:

good to read end that people were save. Nice story.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 28, 2020:

I was glad to see the group of people saved. I wonder who put the bomb there? Was it Zeke? We don't know why he disappeared, but that may be the reason. I liked the story throughout.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 28, 2020:

Thank goodness our hero saved the day! What happened to Zeke? Was he the one who set the bomb and baled under cover of darkness in the covered bridge?

It looks like his plan backfired on him. Aaron-Fishbach is still in operation. Or is it?

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 28, 2020:

I was hooked from the opening paragraph, which is usually my only requirement. Hold my interest and I'm a fan of any story, no matter how it ends. Good to see you writing again, my friend. Stay safe!

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on June 28, 2020:

Well it did sound strange from the beginning. Somehow I focused mainly of Finster the rat.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on June 28, 2020:

I must admit, I was confused as to what happened to Zeke, did he start the fire or someone else, other than that I was intrigued throughout.

Ann Carr from SW England on June 28, 2020:

I think I missed the significance of Zeke stopping, then was missing when the tractor came out - but I thought the cigar-smoking Randall had planted the bomb. Or is it Zeke getting revenge by setting him up? Maybe I've just been a bit dense at 'getting it'! I think I have. Sorry, Chris!

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on June 28, 2020:

Well, I really enjoyed this. Zeke obviously held the bank more than accountable for his losses and financial woes. He was certainly intent on making them pay. Great job Chris. I found this story quite unique and it had enough suspense to keep me intrigued.

Ann Carr from SW England on June 28, 2020:

As I said, I enjoyed the read. If anything I was a little confused with the progress of events but having re-read it, I have a better view, though I don't get what happened to Zeke; did he fall off? I have no problem at all with the last paragraph! Does that help?!

I was wondering the other day where you'd got to!

Ann

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on June 28, 2020:

Thanks, Ann. My faithful beta reader wasn't too fond of this one, but I hadn't posted anything for so long, I decided to share it anyway. I'm only disappointed in the ending. The rest of it I like.

Ann Carr from SW England on June 28, 2020:

I thought something nasty was going to happen as soon as I saw that enclosed bridge! Good story, Chris. There has to be high tension when so many have financial anxieties. You had me guessing which one of those described was going to light a fuse, so to speak.

Thoroughly enjoyed the read!

Ann