The voting is almost over for the Flash Fiction contest so I thought I would let you see my entry. Theme was “crosswords”, hence the above image I pulled just for a graphic.
A Word in the Hand is Worth Two in the Bush
by Robert Garbin
The intensity of the sudden summer storm rattled windows at the old Brandstar Company while shifts were changing. Lights flickered here and there throughout the complex as thunder shook the ground. Bob Balleban saw Sheila Randling yawning as he punched in for his shift.
“Don’t get me started or it will be a long night for both of us!”
“Too late old man, I started yawning as soon as I heard you were here,” Sheila replied.
“Nice, I grace you every day with my charming presence and this is what I get!”
Shelia playfully swatted at the man she had worked with the past five years. He was ten years older with a slim build and close cropped greying hair. She was in her mid-forties and looked like your average young grandmother.
They walked in comfortable silence to the break room where they deposited their lunches in the company refrigerator. Bob took time to start a fresh pot of coffee before they both exited. Quiet dominated the production floor as the shift change occurred; however, the soft hum of equipment held back filled the air with a mood of frantic nervousness.
“Which side you want tonight Bob,” Sheila asked?
“I’ll take the far side dear, I don’t mind,” Bob replied as he worked his way around and over different conveyor belts to the opposite work station.
Bob had just made it to his post when the whistle blew and machinery began ramping up. Soon the conveyor belts were running at a steady pace. Their job was ensuring byproducts off the main production line were routed correctly to proper recycling storage facilities within the plant. With the world in bad shape from decades of conspicuous consumption, no one was allowed to just throw out waste anymore.
For the next two hours the shift ran smoothly and efficiently; large container cubes of water mixed with different contaminants were routed to distillation facilities, while medium sized bottles of resin waste where sent to storage for external reclamation. From time to time either Bob or Shelia would have to slow the line to reassign miss labeled containers, placing corrected labels as they went.
Sheila was just finishing another relabel when Bob jerked up from his control screen cursing loudly into the communication system they shared. The system allowed them to talk over the equipment noise.
“What the hell is wrong with you Bob?” Shelia said with and edge of fear in her voice!
Sheila looked across the conveyor belt at her co-worker. Bob had backed away from the line blinking his eyes rapidly while tapping is right thumb and forefinger together. He now stood cursing, spouting strange words and directions. Meanwhile Shelia had to scramble with the flow of waste materials filling the conveyor belt so the company wouldn’t get fined again. She slowed the line as much as possible without setting off alarms.
“Holy shit,” shouted Bob.
“Jesus Bob, you got to get in here before I have to hit the emergency stop! We could both lose our jobs if that happens!”
Sheila barely had time to growl out the words as she double timed catching miss labeled bottles of contaminated byproducts from the production floor. With two people out on medical in the production line, too many bottles were not labeled right and would end up in the wrong bins for recycling.
“Four across Hawk! Three down Snowy Owl!” Bob yelled.
Shelia, mouth a gape, desperately tried to maintain control of the looming catastrophe.
“Ah … five down, Goose, … seven across Woodpecker!”
Bob continued to spout gibberish for another five minutes as Sheila began to feel flushed from the strain of handling the line solo.
“Seven down … the common name of the duck hawk … wha …,” Bob stammered.
“Snap out of it Bob, damn it!”
“Sheila, what the hell is the common name for a duck hawk?”
“What the hell is going on Bob?” Sheila screamed into her mike.
“For the love of God, do you know the common name for a duck hawk? I have to finish this now!”
“Quit yelling at me … ah, well, it’s not a goshawk or a redtail”
“Eight letters long, starts with a P!” Bob growled.
“P … uh, perched?”
“No, that is only seven letters, it has to be eight!”
“Wait, I remember this from my dad. He was a bird watcher. It isn’t a hawk at all; it’s a falcon … a peregrine falcon!” Sheila said.
“Seven down, peregrine!” Bob shouted.
Tapping his thumb and forefinger together again he let out a sigh and raced to his console where he flagged a mechanical breakdown to stop the system. Red lights began flashing as the conveyors ground to a halt.
“What in the hell happened.”
“Damned AR contacts malfunctioned and placed a Huntingdon Star crossword up that blocked my view. The thing wouldn’t shut down either.”
Sheila started giggling. She looked at Bob and just busted out in laughter, which Bob soon joined. The absurdity of the situation kept them both laughing, helping to relieve the tension of the last fifteen minutes. They were still chuckling and drying their eyes when the shift supervisor and his boss arrived with questions about the stoppage.
Bob managed to keep a straight face as he circumspectly described the malfunction of his AR lens and that he would need a few minutes to retrieve basic contacts from his locker. The shift supervisor frowned but allowed they had made the right decision in stopping the line, his boss; however, was not as mollified. Bob and Sheila could hear them discussing the need for a new policy on augmented gear on the work floor.
Their shift went smoothly the rest of the night except for the number of times Bob had to repeat the story of his now famous contact lens. As daylight began edging over the frames of the plant windows, Bob stretched then placed his station on standby. Across the conveyor Sheila yawned deeply, doing the same. As they entered the break room to retrieve their lunches, the next shift heard them chuckling, saying names of birds back and forth. By the end of the week, the incident had become company legend.