I’m delighted that my Flash Fiction 1,000 word story “The Gray Ledger” placed in the top 15, in the 2nd round of the international NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2022 https://www.nycmidnight.com/ffc
I wrote this story using the below criteria randomly assigned by NYC Midnight.
NYC Midnight required elements:
Location: A boardroom
Object: A scarf
Time limit: 48 hours
Word limit: up to 1,000 words
" The Gray Ledger " written by Susan Eileen Jizba
The old stone building was empty when I arrived, except for Lilith, the bookkeeper who called me for the job. The worn hardwood floors creaked as we headed to her office. I asked where everyone was.
“The men are all on vacation,” she said. “That’s why we must do this now.” Her expression was strange, so I didn’t ask more.
The interview was brief. The task was to transfer account balances from a handwritten ledger onto a laptop, bringing their antiquated records into the modern age.
She asked me odd, random questions about my ancestry and my name Thea, which she liked. “Is that short from something longer?” she probed.
“Everyone calls me Thea,” I replied. I felt weird offering more personal information for such a simple task.
She asked me about my crescent-shaped birthmark on my wrist. Usually, I concealed it. Teased as a child, this mark made me different. It didn’t help that I also saw visions too.
“You’re perfect for this project,” she said. “Can you start now? It must be done by midnight.”
When we reached the boardroom, I felt a wave of oppressive energy. It was packed with shelves of dusty books, row after row of brown accounting ledgers. A solid oak table filled the middle of the room, and a grandfather clock, and an ornate mirror were set on opposite sides.
“This is the boardroom,” she said. “It’s where you’ll work.”
She indicated a large gray ledger on the table, with a black silk scarf tightly wrapped around it’s center like a tourniquet, alongside a laptop computer.
“That’s the ledger” she said. “The scarf keeps it from falling apart. Input the ledger balances into the spreadsheet on the laptop, and remember, it must be done before midnight.”
She headed out, pausing at the door.
I was drawn to the rows of books that she pointed to. “Whatever you do, don’t touch those ledgers. I don’t want you distracted.”
“As you know, the balances from those ledgers of the past all roll up into the current ledger, the gray one that you’re working on.”
When I turned to face her, she was gone. The doorway was empty.
The first hours were easy. I made a lot of progress. But it was tedious work, and I became restless and bored.
I was fascinated by the forbidden ledgers. I felt it couldn’t hurt to examine just one.
I chose the oldest book. It lurched into my hand as if pushed out of the shelf and fell open. I saw a vision of a busy brothel. Loud drunk men were feeling up prostitutes. One was being raped in a corner as a man held a knife to her throat.
I saw a man counting gold coins in a backroom. He tallied it inside the ledger I was holding.
I shoved the book back into the shelf. I felt sharp stabbing pains. As I staggered to the table, the pain subsided.
I was shocked to find the black scarf back on the ledger. It was wound more tightly than before, like a twisted rope.
As my work continued, I became bored again. I found myself reaching for another ledger. This book was hot and smelled of smoke. I almost dropped it. Waves of smoke rolled out of the pages. I felt my body burning.
I saw a vision of myself tied to a blazing pillar, surrounded by flames. Churchmen were counting sheep, crops, and handwoven items. I knew it was all mine. They recorded their spoils in the ledger that now I held.
I shoved the book back into the shelf. My body burned and throbbed; it subsided as I returned to the table. The scarf was tightly wrapped around the ledger again. I almost ripped my nail prying it off.
I glanced at the clock. Midnight was quickly approaching. As I worked, boredom soon overtook me. I was nearing the end of my task. I knew I shouldn’t stop, but I couldn’t help it. I was intrigued by the ledgers.
I allowed myself to choose another book. It was slick and sticky. I saw a vision of rows of women tightly packed into a warehouse, furiously sewing on vintage machines. Sweat trickled down my body.
In a backroom, a man examined checks and notes, recording them in the ledger.
I felt dizzy and faint as I crawled back to the table.
This time the scarf was wrapped so tightly around the gray ledger, it cut into its cover. I could barely pry it off.
I forced myself to focus, pushing myself to finish the task and as the clock struck midnight, I recorded the last item.
I heard talking, laughing, and smelt cigars, but no one was in the room. I glanced at the mirror and saw men within it. They were at the oak table, laughing, talking, smoking, and recording numbers in the ledgers.
I glanced back at the room. I was alone.
The door swung shut with a slam. I heard shouting and footsteps in the hall outside. A man yelled and pounded on the door. The doorhandle rattled as someone tried to enter.
The boardroom began to shake. The furniture rattled. Dust sifted out from the books and one by one they began to transform into gold coins; some were ancient, others more modern.
I looked at the table. The gray ledger was gone. It had transformed into a pile of gold coins on the scarf.
The noises in hall outside subsided. I heard a key in the lock and the door swung open. It was Lilith.
“You’re done.” She knew.
I handed her the laptop, surprised by its sudden weight. I could barely lift it.
“My full name is Themis,” I blurted “I’m not sure why I didn’t tell you
“Themis, the Goddess of Divine Justice,” she said.
“That’s right,” I replied, surprised.
“The ledgers were the records of the Patriarchy,” she said. “Going forward with this gold, the reparations can soon begin.”