Flash Fiction Friday — ‘Home Sweet Home’
Get excited, fiction writers!
Hello there, dear readers, and welcome to the first Flash Fiction Friday. I think the name makes the event pretty clear, but I’ll do my best to explain further. On Fridays, Geek Smash will now be featuring a new flash fiction story (one that’s under 1,000 words) primarily submitted by you, our readers. Head to page two for information on how to submit your own stories, and page three to send them to us.
To kick things off, I present to you my story, “Home Sweet Home.”
Home Sweet Home
Gary sat in the break room, a sandwich in one hand, his phone in the other. Chewing a mouthful of ham, turkey and Swiss cheese, he read his brother’s latest email. Gary’s younger brother Jeff was always combing the internet for weird facts, and today’s had something to do with the multiverse theory.
“According to this theory,” read the email, “there are an infinite number of parallel universes pressed tightly against one another, each differing from the ones next to it in ways as subtle as the position of a single atom, or as major as being composed primarily of antimatter.”
Gary browsed through the accompanying Wikipedia links attached to the email, then read Jeff’s comment at the end of it: “Wouldn’t it be so cool to go to a different universe? How would you even know?” Gary emailed him back some funny GIFs he’d found the night before, then finished his sandwich and got back to work.
Only every other fluorescent light shone in the near-empty grocery store. Gary had been working the night shift for the last year while he was in grad school. Online courses meant he didn’t have to worry about being too groggy for class, and he appreciated the quiet of his workplace when closed to customers. His tennis shoes squeaked on the tile floors, and a wave of muggy air hit him when he pushed open the doors to the back. The customers might get air conditioning, but not the employees. Still, the trucks were already unloaded; now all Gary had to do was put up boxes for a few more hours, and then head home.
Removing his scanner gun from its holster, he got to work. There was a sort of rhythm to it after a while, a flow he’d get into. Grab a box, peel off the bar code sticker, slap it on the bottom left corner. Put the box on the correct shelf, scan the code, and scan the shelf. Repeat.
The repetitive motions lulled him into a bit of a daze, not unlike when driving for long distances on familiar roads, only to look up and find oneself at one’s destination. But eventually something strange pulled Gary out of his meditation. A box marked “Floral Vase Filler” felt damp on the bottom, the cardboard tacky against his fingers. Groaning, Gary wiped his hands on his shirt and set the box down.
He wondered if it had rained last night. Sometimes water seeped into the truck and messed up the boxes. The vase filler should be fine, but just in case it wasn’t… Gary took his box cutter and slit the tape holding the box shut. The stench of ammonia and something rotten wafted toward him, and Gary’s stomach lurched. Sometimes boxes got mislabeled, so one that said “Vase Filler” might actually contain raw oysters, or something else equally revolting.
Gingerly, he lifted the flaps of the box with his blade. Instead of vase filler, or even oysters, it just held…gunk. Gary frowned as he puzzled this one out. It looked like someone at the distribution center had gone to a tide pool, filled a bucket with sand, shells, water and seaweed, tipped all that into a box and shipped it to the store.
Gary’s manager, Felicia, was not going to be happy about this. Then again, Gary wasn’t happy with it himself. He stepped away from the box to try and clear his head of the smell and turned down an aisle. The aisle should have led him to the part of the backroom where they kept floral candles. They might smell weird all mixed together, but that’d be a heck of a lot better than the cloud of ammonia seeping from the box.
Instead, three steps into the aisle found Gary standing in a primeval forest.
Enormous trees rose above him, all of them thicker than he was tall. Covered in moss, the trees blocked most of the light overhead, which should have been coming from fluorescent tubes, but was instead sunlight. A dragonfly as big as a hawk swooped past Gary’s head, and he ducked, his fists clenched at his sides. The dragonfly’s wings buzzed louder than Gary could have imagined as it hovered just an arm’s length away, then sped off.
Very carefully, Gary walked back the way he came. When he rounded a particularly thick tree, he felt the terrain change beneath his sneakers from earth to poured concrete, and he let out a sigh of relief.
“Gary,” said Felicia, the night-shift manager. “What the hell’s going on with that box of crap over in aisle fifteen?”
Gary, his mind still reeling from what had just happened to him, struggled to come up with an explanation. When he couldn’t, Felicia muttered something about the DC’s screw-ups and headed back to her office. With her gone, he ducked his head back into the aisle where he’d been transported, but found only scented candles.
For the rest of his shift, Gary considered what his brother had sent him on parallel universes. If you found your way into one, how could you guarantee you’d found your way back? Everything looked the same, sure, but what if some subtle detail was different? How could he tell?
Browsing the internet on his last break, Gary checked everything he could think of, but couldn’t find anything too bizarre. When his shift ended and the store opened, he walked out into the parking lot. The cars all looked like familiar makes and models. The sun shone brightly overhead, still the same shade of warm yellow from yesterday. Then, a massive school of passenger pigeons flew out from the trees bordering the lot. They blotted out the sun, the sound of their wings beating so loudly it was almost a physical force. When they finally passed out of view, a few minutes later, Gary sighed.
“Phew,” he said, relieved. “Home sweet home.”