I am one of the participants in the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction challenge. That means that, this past Friday at 11:59pm, I received a challenge which included a genre, a location, and an object and then I had 48 hours to write a 1000-word short story.
Did I mention that I was camping on a non-electric site with my family this weekend? Well, despite this potential roadblock, I retrieved my assignment via my cell phone and then spent the entire weekend obsessing over it. When I arrived home around noon on Sunday, I still had NOTHING. But, I managed to pull something together at the last minute and submitted my first story to the challenge.
My task? Write a fantasy story set in a factory that includes mention of a dozen eggs. What follows is the story that I ended up with. I don’t think I’ve ever written a fantasy story before — what a fabulous experience, to be pushed to work so quickly and so far out of my regular comfort zone! Perhaps it’s not an award-winning tale, but I’m proud of myself for taking the plunge and participating. I can’t wait to see what the next challenge will bring!
“Ugh, my feet are killing me,” Cheryl said. “I should know better than to wear new shoes to work.”
Her partner on the assembly line, a snooty new girl called Donella, said nothing. Bitch, Cheryl thought. Too good to talk to me, I guess. She glanced up at the woman across from her. She was pretty enough, Cheryl grudgingly admitted. Pretty, except for those unfortunate ears of hers: too large and slightly pointed at the tips.
Donella was focused on the conveyor belt between them, looking for quality control issues from further up the line. She wasn’t very good at it, in Cheryl’s opinion. The tiny Faerie Fay dolls that passed between them had to be perfect, from the full head of brushable, blonde hair and the perfectly painted on face, to the silver gown and the gauzy wings. Donella didn’t seem able to recognize the most obvious irregularities and Cheryl had to work twice as hard to pick up the slack. It wasn’t fair and it was cutting into Cheryl’s KPIs. She’d already complained twice, and if something wasn’t done about Donella’s poor performance soon, she was going to file a grievance with her union rep; she’d been clear on that point at her last meeting with the foreman, too.
The headache behind Cheryl’s eyes pulsed in time with the throbbing hum of the equipment around her. One day, she was going to get out of this place. It was only supposed to be a temporary job, but it had been five years since she’d signed on at the Faerie Fay Toy Factory. Five years spent staring at that impish doll face, looking for failures. It had gotten to the point that she searched for defects everywhere now. And damn it if they weren’t easy to find, once you knew how to look.
It was their busy season at the factory. Through the lead-up to Christmas, the demand for Faerie Fay dolls skyrocketed, and their tiny bodies streamed by her in an endless blur. The fluorescent lighting hurt her eyes, the droning machinery hurt her head, and she was convinced that spending hours hunched over the assembly line was ruining her posture. Cheryl didn’t think she could take it much longer.
Her mental inventory of complaints was interrupted by the sudden appearance of the foreman, Larry. His bristling, black unibrow and perpetual frown gave her the creeps but she smiled at him anyway. It couldn’t hurt.
“All right ladies, listen up!” Larry shouted. “We’re behind schedule by almost ten thousand units this week. We’re going to need some overtime.”
The parade of dolls continued to march before her. Cheryl pulled out one that was missing her wings and shifted gingerly from foot to foot. She was certain that at this point, she had blisters on top of her blisters. How would she survive another two or three hours? She peeked across the line at Donella. Now there’s someone who seems fresh enough, Cheryl thought. Even near the end of an eight-hour shift, her makeup hadn’t smeared a bit, and not so much as a single strand of her long, dark hair had slipped loose from her ponytail. What if…
Cheryl momentarily took her eyes off the river of fairies flowing in front of her and met Larry’s gaze. She inclined her head toward her partner and raised an eyebrow. She hoped he took the hint.
“Sandy, Michelle, Nancy, and…”
Say her name, say her name, say her name, Cheryl silently prayed.
“Yes!” Cheryl whispered, under her breath. Donella looked up at her and frowned. Cheryl grinned and shrugged her shoulders. The only thing she wanted was a hot shower and a strong drink, and Larry was calling for overtime. It was every woman for herself, as far as she was concerned.
The buzzer sounded, signalling the end of the regular shift. The machines slowed, and then stopped. The girls that pulled the OT shift would start the line up again after their dinner break. The rest of them were free to go, including Cheryl.
“See you later, Donella!” she called as she joined the group of women heading for the door.
Once home, Cheryl groaned with pleasure as she slipped her shoes from swollen feet. She had stopped on the way for a dozen eggs and a brick of cheese, planning on whipping up an omelette for her dinner, but the thought of cooking seemed like too much work. Instead, she poured herself a glass of wine and collapsed on the sofa with a sigh. Every aching muscle in her body was grateful.
She turned on the television, flipped through the channels until she came across The Wizard of Oz, and settled in to watch Dorothy on her travels along the yellow brick road. She was on her third glass of Merlot and Dorothy was just clicking her ruby slippers together when a sudden knock made Cheryl jump.
Who on earth could that be? she wondered, glancing at the clock. She crossed her apartment and peered through the peep-hole in the door.
“Let me in please, Cheryl. I need to see you.”
Cheryl opened the door. “Listen, Donella. It’s not my fault that you got stuck with the OT shift…”
Donella reached out and grasped Cheryl’s shoulders and then leaned in, as though for a kiss. Cheryl’s eyes popped wide and she opened her mouth, but before she could say a word, Donella gently blew into Cheryl’s face. The air shimmered for a moment, as though charged with electricity. Cheryl stiffened, and then froze. Her body shrank rapidly until she was no more than five inches tall, lying at Donella’s feet.
Donella stooped, retrieved the tiny figure and studied its crooked plastic smile, tangled hair and faded housecoat.
Defective, she thought. This one would never fit with the rest of her collection. On her way out of the building, she dropped the reject into the trash and then disappeared into the night.