Flash Fiction Challenge: The Shining

Chuck Wendig, author and writer of the excellent Terribleminds.com blog, set a flash fiction challenge for his readers. The challenge was to write a short story using the title of one of Stephen King’s novels. I opted for ‘The Shining’. Enjoy the read.

Arriving early, Jeff sat down to work, alone in the empty office space. Strewn about his desk were casefiles and reminder notes. Jeff stared at the bureaucratic debris.

The sight paralysed him.

It might have been only seconds, maybe minutes, that he was fixed in place, before a noise broke him from his trance.

Someone else had come into the office. Jeff winced. Not at the sound, or the thought of company, but at the light. Squinting he looked outside. It was bright; an omnipresent glare that hurt his eyes. And today was a cloudy day.

Walking into the cubicle section was Diane and she sat at her desk behind him. In the spirit of clinical perfectionism, there were four desks in a cubicle, each facing a corner little naughty children. Sat by the window, Diane and Jeff had long since perfected the art of talking even with backs to each other.

‘Am I suitably late?’ said Diane.

Jeff shrugged. ‘I guess so. It’s early for most people I think.’

‘That’s true. Actually, weren’t you at court this morning?’

‘Came in to get some papers first. Did you need to be in so early?’

‘Oh, I’ve a million and one things to do,’ she said, flicking on her computer and kicking her bag under the table. ‘Got child interviews this morning and then a family meeting.’

‘Busy.’

‘Aren’t we all?’ said Diane, clicking away on her keyboard.

Jeff blinked. The glow of his monitor was bright.

‘It’s too bright in here,’ he said.

‘What?’

‘Too bright. Aren’t there controls for the shades?’

‘Yeah, but we’re not supposed to touch them. They practically had a fist fight the last time someone lowered them. If you’re off to court maybe stick it out until then. Maybe you could wear sunglasses.’

‘At my desk?’ said Jeff. ‘I’d look like I’m hungover.’

Jeff didn’t need to see Diane to instinctively know that she turned in her seat to look at him.

‘Aren’t you really hungover though?’ she asked with humour in her voice.

There was a pause.

‘Maybe a little,’ said Jeff at last.

Diane said nothing, but turned back to her desk. Jeff imagined she was smiling.

No, he knew she was.

With a click, the door of the team leaders office, surprising them both.

‘Good,’ said Sheila, their team leader, stepping out of the office. ‘You’re both in.’

Jeff glanced towards Sheila’s office. How long had she been in?

‘You’re here early,’ said Diane.

‘Lots to do,’ said Sheila cheerfully. ‘Now unfortunately we’ve got a few people off sick today, so I need someone to chair a family meeting this arvo. Who’s up for it?’

Jeff’s mouth dropped open, but no sounds came out. He was already overstocked on work.

‘Well, I can’t,’ said Diane. ‘I’ve already got interviews, those two sisters remember, and a family meeting.’

‘Aren’t they twins?’ said Sheila.

‘Nope, different ages,’ said Diane.

‘I see,’ said Sheila. ‘Jeff?’

‘I’ve got court.’

‘Oh that won’t take you past midday. You’ve got nothing booked this afternoon?’

‘Well, no, but I have a lot of work on-’

‘But nothing booked.’

‘No.’

Sheila’s eyes rolled up briefly. ‘Good, so no bookings then,’ she said, her voice tightening. ‘Can you chair then please. It’s at one.’

Sheila turned and returned to her office, closing the door behind her.

‘Can you really do that meeting?’ said Diane.

‘Guess I’ll have to,’ said Jeff.

Wincing, he rubbed his eyes. Now it was the lights in the office that were too bright.

‘Bloody hell,’ he said. ‘What the fuck am I meant to do?’

Looking down despondently at this desk, Jeff ran his hands over the masses of papers and files, as though somehow he could make it all vanish. Of course, the paperwork stayed, and the light pulsated. Propping up his arms on elbows, Jeff closed his eyes and sank his face into his hands.

Behind him, Diane said nothing. A small part of him had hoped she might offer, but deep down he knew she couldn’t. He’d refuse anyway.

What could he do? Fake court? Pretend the hearing didn’t happen until late? No, that wouldn’t work. Either Sheila would realise the truth, or he’d go stone crazy not being able to do anything. If there was thing Jeff hated more than work, it was having nothing to do.

A family meeting would take an hour to two hours, probably two since he was unfamiliar with the case. Then factor in writing up the notes. By then he’d only have about an hour, assuming he could speed type. He wouldn’t get anything done. Another day wasted on nothing, just someone else’s work.

Placing his head in his hands had provided some welcome relief, but he couldn’t sit like this forever. Raising his head he blinked. The light was still bright, too bright. He was beginning to get a headache. That monitor.

‘It’s too bright,’ he said.

‘Hmm, what was that?’ said Diane.

‘The light. And this monitor, I think it’s broken.’

Diane turned her chaired and rolled over next to him. Looking about his desk she shook her sadly.

‘Geez Jeff,’ she said. ‘I thought I had it bad. Let’s see if we can’t sort this out.’

Reaching across, Diane swept all the papers and casework together in a single pile.

‘There,’ she said. ‘That’s a start. Now, just sift through it one at at time, casefiles typed up, paperwork on file or in the confidential waste. And get rid of these,’ she said, swiping away the reminder notes and putting them in the small office bin under Jeff’s desk.

‘Wait a second,’ he said, making as though to pull them out.

‘Useless things,’ said Diane, waving her hand to stop him.’How long have some of them been there? A month or two? Forget it. And now your monitor, well, there’s the problem, you haven’t switched your computer on.’

Jeff looked down at the computer and blinked. True enough, it wasn’t switched on. Looking at the monitor, he realised that it too was not on.

Rolling his eyes up to the ceiling, Jeff looked at the light. Switched off.

The clouds.

Looking outside, the clouds were dark and grey.

Still there was light, all about him. It was peripheral now, like someone was shining a torch to the side of him.

Diane looked at her watch, seemingly oblivious to Jeff’s optical distress.

‘It’s getting on,’ she said. ‘Get that computer on, get the files you need and head off to court. You should still make it and…’ she lowered her voice a little so Sheila wouldn’t heat, ‘…dinner at mine tonight, yeah?’

Without waiting for an answer, Diane turned back to her desk and began typing away on her keyboard in earnest.

Jeff took a deep breath, and then another. You can do this, he thought.

Reaching out, he clicked the computer on.

And like that, the lights went out.

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