Competition: Flash Fiction Challenge 2016, 3rd Round
Genre: Open Location: A
trading floor Object: A scrapbook
Original Illustration by
pricks my closed eyes, turning black to red behind my lids.
I open them and see the rising sun has cast bright golden stripes
across an unfamiliar duvet.
I roll over. I'm not alone.
"She lives," my bedfellow croaks,
sounding as groggy as I feel.
"Hey there...Josh?" It comes out as more
of a question than I mean it to.
He laughs and kisses my throbbing temple.
"Just so you know—"
"I know, you told me; you never do
this." He squeezes my shoulder playfully.
I wasn't lying. With three margaritas
coursing through my veins and exactly one unexpired condom in my purse,
last night seemed like as good a time as any to end my six-month
"I'll get you some water."
He kicks off the covers to reveal the
kind of sculpted torso I thought only existed in TV dramas. His room is
spare, but neat. Framed pictures of him and his students crowd his
shelves. He's a catch, I think.
Too bad he'll be dead before the year’s
He retrieves my crumpled blouse from the
floor. My work badge dangles from the collar. He squints at the bold
letters under my photo. SEER: C9.
"Looks like serious business," he teases.
He lifts an eyebrow.
"Boring stuff," I gently pry my blouse
from his hands without meeting his eyes.
In a few hours my day will start as it
always does, on the trading floor. My earliest appointment will be with
an entrepreneur who struck big with a tech innovation at the ripe age of
nineteen. A first time client, he will marvel at the marble floors,
vaulted ceilings, rose gold finishes, and spare-no-expense espresso
machines nestled in the corners of the trading room. He'll joke that
Seers like myself have come a long way from circus sideshows and tourist
"The future is a lucrative business,"
I'll say before reminding him we have limited time for today's exchange.
He's paid an unspeakable sum to learn
whether he should sell his company, and he will hand over another twenty
grand in cash to ask with downcast eyes if his wife will leave him. I'll
tell him with our guaranteed ninety-seven percent accuracy that he
should, and she will.
I'll pass him a Kleenex and my business
card. I'll let him know he can take as long as he needs to process the
information, and if he's satisfied with our work, we appreciate
word-of-mouth referrals. Later, when the news breaks that his
multi-billion-dollar deal closed, I'll cut out the headline and paste it
in the scrapbook that's become my makeshift portfolio.
My one-o-clock will be a return client. A
congresswoman whose reelection bid did not go as I'd projected.
Seething, she'll pace, her furious heel-clicks echoing through the hall.
She'll demand to know how this could happen as her face turns from
crimson to purple.
I'll reread her our terms. I'll jot down
figures that show what an anomaly this was. In a measured tone, I'll
describe that once fate is in motion, the chance that a person exerts
free will are nearly nonexistent, statistically speaking. I'll remind
her that while humans are predictable creatures, they do possess the
capacity to change course. I'll offer her a make-good exchange, but
she'll still lean across my desk, misting spittle across my face as she
calls me a money-grubbing freak.
This won't be my worst appointment today.
"You got time for breakfast, boss lady? I
make a mean eggs-in-a-nest."
I wriggle into my pencil skirt and step
into my patent-leather pumps, stalling for time.
I remember bonding over jukebox picks
last night. I take in Josh's lopsided grin. The expectant pools of amber
that sparkle against his olive skin.
And then I see the hazel eyes that will
dull, as they sink into the hollows of his skull. I see the skin that
will cling to the jagged peaks on his face. I see the black capillaries
that will spread across his torso like tortured tree roots. I see the
mouth that will twist in anguish, and I hear the last strangled breath
that will escape it.
"Maybe another time." I reach for my
* * *
My final appointment will be with a head
of state who will arrive with a full security detail. I'll confirm his
suspicions about the upcoming attack on his homeland. The one that'll
violate a decades-old peace agreement. He'll say nothing as a smile
unfurls across his face, but I'll know he's decided to launch the
biological weapon that's been ten years in development. I know the virus
will wipe out one in four Americans before it's fully contained. That
the deaths won't be swift, and they won't be easy. That it'll be
generations before we recover. A chill will spider up my arm when he
shakes my hand before leaving.
That night in my supervisor's office,
I'll detail the exchange. I'll ask what we can do. She'll slide the
client's contract across the desk. She'll clear her throat and recite
our mission. She'll say our loyalties are dictated by the market. That
we're in futures, not loss prevention. She'll pull a copy of the
client's bill from his file and point to a number with more zeroes than
I can count in one glance. She'll explain these are the clients who keep
us in business. Who keep our lives comfortable. I'll nod and thank her,
but will feel no comfort.
Josh walks me to the door.
"You're not going to ghost me now, are
I open the door.
I think about the acute pain that will
wrap itself around my heart in a few months. The grief that will pin me
to my bed. The guilt that'll claw at my mind. The ache of loneliness
that will cloud my senses and dull my gift.
I pause. I think about everything that
will happen before that.
"Actually, eggs sound good."
I let the door close.