Flash Fiction Challenge: Sauna Time

2014 May Day 4 Sauna Flash Fiction Prompt
Photo copyright K. S. Brooks. Do not use without attribution.

John’s phone had been ringing off the hook all day. Emails came in one after another. People were in and out of his office like he had a revolving door. He’d been trying really hard to get a big proposal done by the deadline, but it wasn’t going to happen unless he could get some quiet time. Going home wasn’t an option with family visiting for the holidays.

He thought maybe the men’s room would be a good place to think, but even in there, co-workers managed to find him. John couldn’t believe that people were rifling questions at him while he was in the stall.

There was only once place left in the entire building where he could go to possibly have a moment’s peace: the corporate sauna. John hated being hot, but he didn’t have a choice. He stripped down, wrapped himself in a towel, and hoped that no one found him in there. For about twenty minutes, John was making great progress, until…

Welcome to the Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction Challenge. In 250 words or less, write a story incorporating the elements in the picture and the written prompt above. Do not include the prompt in your entry. The 250 word limit will be strictly enforced.

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15 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Challenge: Sauna Time”

  1. ***FINALIST***

    John heard a muted sound. He set down his notebook and stared at the door. A flat object came into view. Then a loud THUNK echoed through the sauna.

    ‘A wedge,’ John thought. ‘Someone just kicked a wedge into the jamb.’ Before he could finish his thought, a shadow darkened the sliver of light streaming from under the door. John heard smug laughter, and then a voice whispered to him.

    “Sorry, buddy,” it began, “but I can’t have you turning in your numbers to Steven. They contradict what my team’s come up with. Hate that it has to be this way, but I gotta keep you here for another few hours. See you, Johnny-boy.”

    ‘Eugene Tritter, from Finance.’ John never liked that guy. They’d almost come to blows over a metrics analysis last fall, but this. He didn’t know Eugene had it in him.

    “Genie, you don’t have to do this, buddy. I know we’ve had our issues, but listen, guy. We can work out the numbers, OK? Gene?”

    Nothing.

    Hours passed.

    At half past eight, the wedge slid out and Eugene poked in his head.

    “No hard feelings, John, OK? John….” Eugene dropped his briefcase.

    John was lying on the heated teak. Ashen skin and swollen tongue confirmed the diagnosis. He’d suffered heat stroke and a heart attack. Eugene had killed him. A scream from behind him made Eugene jump.

    Melinda Graves had seen everything.

    She fell upon the sauna floor. The wedge returned. The lights went out.

  2. ***FINALIST***

    “There you are!” Jimmy burst through the door.
    John sighed hard, “Can’t you see I’m busy.”
    Jimmy laughed, “Busy, we have 20 minuets before you need to go.”
    John grumbled as he stood up, “Fine. I wanted to get some warmth before going out there.”
    “But, it’s almost time.”
    “I know, I know.” John walked out of the sauna, still holding the towel around his waist. He stepped into the lift, with Jimmy right behind him.
    Soon they were at the top floor, the living quarters. John entered through gold gilded doors and was greeted by the sweet aroma of sugar cookies. A sweet old lady met him, “Your father has your wardrobe ready.”
    “Thanks, mom.” John walked into the bedroom and found a wonderful suit laid out on the bed. With a good smile he dressed.
    Jimmy gasped. “Green, the green one!”
    “My grandfather wore green long before your time, Jimmy.”
    “Alright,” Jimmy huffed, “Now…Oh, wait, I think I hear the bells. It’s about to land.”
    John finished donning his green suit and brushed off a little black dust from its last use. With a confident gait he left the bedroom and headed for a special door out the back of the suite.
    The doors led to a long walkway and landing platform. A magnificent sleigh swooped down pulled by eight reindeer. A dozen elves scurried about getting the last details ready.
    Jimmy ,the chief elf, held up an embroidered magic hat, “It’s your time to shine, Mr. Claus.”

  3. ***FINALIST***

    “Long week?” a voice came from the corner of the sauna.

    “Yes sir,” John replied. “I can’t get away from anyone, that’s why I’m in here hiding.”

    A stocky man with a long white beard came into view from the corner.

    “Why would you want to get away from anyone? It’s almost Christmas!” The stocky man said.

    “People irritate me to no end, all they do is want things! They never give” John said.

    “What would you ask for if someone were to give, since it is the holidays?”

    “I’d ask for this stress to go away! I’m the only one doing any real work around here” John exclaimed.

    The stocky man chucked, as if what John said was funny. He sits down across from John, stroking his beard.

    “You know, I can fulfill that wish if you’d like.” He said.

    John snorted, “Yea right, how are you going to do that? Finish my proposal for me? Or plan on taking my place at the family christmas dinner and listen to my mother-in-law yap about me never spending enough time at home?”

    In a moments notice, the stocky man bounded towards John. His reflexes weren’t fast enough and he felt the hot knife enter his heart. He looked up, surprised at the man.

    “I told you I could take it away. Take it away forever.”

    As the life faded from John, he heard the stocky man start to sing:

    “He sees you when you’re sleeping… he knows when you’re awake…”

  4. He was making great progress on the proposal, but felt the direction left something to be desired. This was a new client and he had this one chance to make…
    “Should we take his clothes?”
    Oh sh*t, he remembered he forgot to hang the wooden ‘Male’ sign under the ‘Occupied’ placard.
    “No, he probably would just come into the office area wearing a towel or even less. He thinks he’s the answer to all our prayers.”
    He didn’t think it was possible to be sweating much more, but hearing their conversation was having a reaction.
    “What do you want to do?”
    “Maybe we should just go to lunch and leave him to his thoughts.”
    “Look, he didn’t hang the sign.”
    “You’re not considering what I think you are…tell me you’re not.”
    “It would serve him right. He’s so organized it would be true justice. It would be his own fault.”
    “Justine, you’re really doing this aren’t you?”
    “Are you going to join me, or are you chicken?”
    “I’m not chicken, but I don’t trust you alone with him. You forgot you shared what you two almost did at the offsite.”
    “Hang the ‘Ladies’ sign and hurry up before he decides he’s had enough heat for one day.”
    He had to admit he was having some trouble coming up with the subject matter for their client’s E.D. commercial, but realized things work out the way they are supposed to.

  5. Glenda, his secretary of only six months, had developed a passionate yearning for John. She dreamed, imagined, pretended, visualized every single thing she would do with him if she ever got the chance. She was thankful he liked blondes She watched him enter the sauna. Her blue eyes lit up like a neon sign.

    This was the moment.

    She collected the nearest goodies, took a deep breath, and twirled into the room wiggling the bells on the rear end of her Elf’s costume. The heat of the cedar-lined paneling fogged her glasses.

    “I know you’re in here, you little devil” she called out raising the bottle of champagne high over her Elf’s cap. “Come out come out wherever you are.” She clinked the two glasses against the sweating bottle.

    “Glenda! You crazy nut.” he cried out as he stood. “Give me those before you hurt yourself.” John reached out and took the stuff. He turned on the exhaust. The misting warmth was sucked out. She turned to the sound of his voice.

    “You’ve got a desk full of emails, messages and an office full of drunken celebrators.” She blindly reached out. “I can’t see a thing through these glasses.”

    She felt the cloth of a towel and yanked it towards herself to wipe the film from her glasses.

    There he stood stark naked. Her eyes widened in disbelief. “Oh my God” she gasped, folding like a wet rag into a dead faint.

    ? ? ?

  6. Sweat dripped down John’s back, tickling like a stream of little spiders. He hated being hot, but the corporate sauna was the only place where he could work undisturbed. Stripping down to a towel had made it somewhat bearable.

    The proposal deadline was in a few hours. Holiday house guests, endless phone calls, and questioning coworkers had kept interrupting him. Even the bathroom wasn’t safe. Only this hot, pit of cedar hell was refuge.

    His fingers tapped furiously on the keys of his iPad. He was almost done. Nothing could stop him now. A screeching fire alarm made John jump. He stumbled, dizzy from the prolonged heat. Cold air hit him like an arctic blast when he opened the door. Everything looked hazy. Panic pressed in on him. There was no time to lose. He raced to the exit, bare feet slapping on the tile floor.

    Relief filled John as he burst through the doors and hurried to his coworkers. Clutching the iPad with its precious proposal, he gasped for air, thankful to be alive. It wasn’t until his heart stopped pounding in his ears that he heard the rapid clicking of cameras and the sniggering around him.

    Confused, John stared at his coworkers. Fingers pointed in his direction. A cold December breeze chased away the sauna’s heat induced haze. Warmth returned to John face. Somewhere during his dash to safety, his towel had vanished. He lowered the iPad. This was one proposal that would make history.

  7. John blinked. The amber ceiling light seemed dim, and it flashed. He reached for his wristwatch. Eighteen minutes elapsed—so much time? Why wasn’t the bench warmer? Why wasn’t he hot?

    John rose and examined the thermostat at the door. The digital screens were blank. A mechanical dial pointed to ninety-two Fahrenheit—definitely too low. The sauna had shut off.

    He clasped his towel and opened the sauna door. Dull amber lights flickered at the doorways. Exit lights blinked blood red. The emergency lights are failing, John realized. Something has gone wrong.

    He padded barefoot over the worn carpet of the executive office. Not a soul stirred. Screens sat dark; telephones lay silent. Behind the president’s desk, windowpanes dripped condensation. John could feel a chill against his bare legs.

    Fourteen stories below ran a narrow lane, the only link between office park and public highway. John peered out through the afternoon gloom: streetlights dark, lawns white. Roads glistened under the ice.

    Corpubux had selected the dilapidated office for its low rent. Staff commuted over cratered roads, and parked on the fractured lot. Coyotes hunted rats. In five years’ toil, John had never seen a snow plow visit the office park.

    Corpubux sat alone in shabby splendor. The snow fell.

  8. ***FINALIST***

    John heard someone heading for the changing room. Through the door window that separated the changing and sauna rooms, John saw his colleague Carl. A few minutes later, Carl entered the sauna, unaware of John’s presence. John was hiding behind one of the partitions that were erected to provide some privacy for the sauna users.
    John continued working on his proposal, when he heard, “Hey, honey. How’s your day?”
    Slightly irritated but still amused, John eavesdropped on Carl’s phone conversation, presumably with his wife. Carl continued, “It was a rough one today!”
    John noticed Carl’s somber tone; he sounded very despondent.
    “One of my close colleagues passed away today, right here in the office. It is really sad. So young, too.” Carl spoke. “They said he was in the mens room working on a proposal or something. He slipped and hit his head on the sink.”
    John was intrigued now. How had he not heard of this incident?
    John’s thoughts were interrupted when Carl spoke again, “He came over for dinner once. You know him. His name was John.”
    Shocked at the revelation, John left the sauna, heading toward the mens room. He reached just in time to see his body being wheeled away. He was still clutching that proposal. At least, no one would bother him now.

  9. The single light in the sauna abruptly died, pitching the uncomfortably heated sweat locker into darkness. Now, he had to find another place to work where he wouldn’t be bothered. He fumbled for the hard copy files strewn beside him on the wooden bench. His sweat-slick hands clung to the papers and left moisture prints where he gripped them.

    John stood, re-wrapping the white towel where it loosened in the twenty minutes he’d been working and leaving the sweltering humidity behind him, absentmindedly grabbing the gym bag stuffed with his work clothes. The back-up generator hadn’t kicked in yet, leaving John to travel by the emergency lights and whatever light managed to dart its way through the clouds and too small windows slowly being coated by thick, fluffy snowflakes.

    Angry murmurs echoed behind the door to the stairway as a troop of sleep-deprived colleagues trudged down the flights of stairs, finally calling it quits thanks to the power outage. John could leave now: join his co-workers and praise the good fortune the snow caused while cursing how it made the roads treacherous.

    Instead, he waited until the stairway was silent, then moved to his cubicle, bare feet smacking lightly against the floor. The generator would be on soon. He had a proposal to finish, a raise to win, and then he could make time for the holidays.

    “Well,” he muttered as he passed the empty desks, “at least Christmas morning. I’ve got another project due by New Years.”

  10. ***FINALIST***

    We Interrupt this program to bring you a Special News Report on Jonathan Taylor Clauseski, the “Santa Clause Killer.” They found his “Naughty or Nice Coworker Christmas List.” See how the SWAT Team caught him sitting naked in the sauna while working on this year end list. See how he checked it twice to make sure only those naughty got his murderous gifts.

    Special News Update: Someone escaped, interview at Nine.

    Report at Ten: New Footage of him caught updating his Facebook page when the SWAT Team flash grenade stunned him and a dozen armored men rushed in, to subdue him. See how he was brutally pinned to the sauna floor, while his bloody hands were secured behind his back.

    Report at Eleven: See him kicking and screaming, and ranting, “No Christmas Bonus this Year!”

    Report at Twelve: Watch security tapes of him luring co-workers away by pretending to need help with his report. Watch him brutally slaughter them with the giant blade from the office paper cutter that he used as a machete. Now watch exclusive footage of how the SWAT Team dragged him through the break room where he arranged his bloody victims to finish his bloody machinations.

    Now a Christmas Special “Santa Clause is Coming to Kill You.” Now! A Christmas Exclusive! See how he spelled out Merry Christmas with their body parts in front of the office Christmas tree. Watch the trailer temptingly asking you, “Have you been naughty or nice to me this year?”

  11. John trembled. He tried to stand but lost his balance and his towel as he heard the first rumble. He stumbled into the dressing room where locker doors were rattling. When John reached the stairs he heard screams.

    He remembered the voice of his late father as he ran through a sulfuric haze from the twentieth floor of One Commerce Square, wishing he’d stayed away from Memphis like the old seismologist had requested. John, he told him, the New Madrid is due to shift again in a big way. Remember Reelfoot. John did remember Reelfoot Lake, a place nearly impossible to forget—a fifteen-thousand-acre lake, mostly swampy, created by the retrograde Mississippi River flowing into subsidence of five to twenty feet resulting from three earthquakes in less than two months.

    John was running with one hand on a rail and one on his towel, wishing he go could back against time like the river had run back against its natural current. He loved the blues and barbeque of his birthplace, but he didn’t want to be buried by one of its buildings. By the time John and the others got to the ground he’d lost his towel and the quake had stopped but they kept running.

    The aftershocks were more imagined than real. Two colleagues fashioned a makeshift kilt out of their shirts, but being naked that day was nothing like the fevered shame of his dreams.

  12. Alarms blared, ripping John’s attention from his computer screen. Flashing red lights illuminated the beads of sweat that streaked down his body from the slowly increasing heat.

    John groaned, “What now?”

    The door to the sauna flung open; escaping steam dispersed to reveal several figures in bright yellow hazmat suits. He had finally begun to make progress on the proposal, only to be thwarted again.

    “Sir, what are you doing in here? Didn’t you see the sign?” exclaimed a distorted male voice.

    John wrapped the towel tighter around his body, distinctly aware of the many eyes on him.

    “Excuse me, what sign?” he asked, not bothering to conceal his irritation in the slightest.

    “Idiot, everyone knows the corporate sauna has been closed down today due to a failed lab experiment on Floor 8 which contaminated all of the water in the building.”

    Before John could make a biting retort about the “scientists” on Floor 8, another individual spoke up, “Uh…Robert, the sign we put up earlier fell off, and HR’s official employee notice was only sent out a few minutes ago…”

    “Gertrude, file a complaint about communication to Headquarters; I’m not taking responsibility for this mess,” Robert stated before turning back to John. “Follow me so that we can ensure that nothing toxic has entered your system.”

    John scowled, “I have important work to finish; Christmas is-”

    “You’re just going to have to put up with our important work: ensuring you’re able to return home for the holidays.”

  13. ***FINALIST***

    The moisture in the sauna had the ink on John’s paperwork running and the words fading into each other. Soon all of his hard work was ruined and he cursed his luck. “Oh great! I should have known this would happen!”

    Looking again at his paperwork he couldn’t believe his eyes. Rubbing the sweat from his face, he thought perhaps the heat was getting to him.

    The words on the paper were spinning and swirling. Just as he made out one word another swirl rearranged the letters to form a new one.

    “Dear…Santa…Please….bring…..my….Daddy….home…in…time…for…Christmas…this…year…I…have…been…good…Love…Amy.” John read the words and chills ran down his spine. How could this happen? Why was he reading letters to Santa?

    John closed his eyes. Opening them again, he watched as more words swirled and formed.

    “Dear…Santa…..Please…. bring…. me….a…. puppy…..Dad…said….I… could… have… one …last… year….but…he…never…got…me…one…Love…Tommy.”

    John remembered his workaholic Father and the dog he had always wished for. Amazed at what he was experiencing, a smile formed on his face. He met co-workers in the hall as he headed out of the office, leaving unanswered questions between them. “Merry Christmas to all!” He chuckled.

    Arriving home, John delighted his son with his gift. Six year old Tommy shrieked with glee as the pink tongue of a yellow puppy licked his face.

    Four year old Amy leapt into her father’s arms and whispered into his ear. “Santa brought you home in time! I knew he would.”

    “He sure did honey. I got the message.”

  14. Mr. Dooley, John’s boss, entered the sauna. He was a short, stocky man. While a white towel concealed his lower body, a forest of untamed hair was generously being showcased on his bare chest.

    John felt the heat rising and his cheeks change color.

    “Looking good, John” Mr. Dooley observed as he made himself comfortable.

    John had always been self-conscious about his physical appearance, and this gratuitous comment made his uneasiness skyrocket.

    “I assume the proposal is done?” Mr. Dooley asked, turning a statement into an unequivocal question.

    John’s cheeks were now solid red. He considered describing his awfully chaotic day to Mr. Dooley, but in a frantic attempt to respond quickly, words jammed, and all he was left with was a mere “yup.”

    “Fabulous. Just in time for our meeting,” Mr. Dooley stated, studying his watch. It was 4PM when the door opened. Mr. Torso, Mr. Grant, and Ms. Jane entered the sauna wrapped in towels.

    John’s cheeks were now generating heat on their own. “Meeting?” He mumbled.

    “Didn’t you get my email?” Mr. Dooley asked, making room for his associates.

    John realized that, out of desperation, he had shut off all electronic devices before lunch.

    “Meeting moved to the corporate sauna at 4PM.” Ms. Jane stated, as if reading Mr. Dooley’s email.

    Everyone was now staring at John, whose cheeks had become the main source of heat in the corporate sauna.

    “We’re all ears, John,” Mr. Dooley opened the meeting.

    John caught on fire.

  15. The door opened. The slight breeze was welcome and he sighed in appreciation.

    “Mr. Trenton?”

    It was his assistant, Delores. “Sir?”

    He sighed. Even the sweaty, bowels of the building weren’t safe from interruption.

    “Yes?”

    The breeze was no longer refreshing and despite his dislike of the heat, he was wishing she’d either leave quickly or else finish the conversation inside the sauna, either would suffice so long as she shut the damn door.

    “It’s your wife. There’s been an accident.”

    The short drive lasted an eternity.

    Memories of that morning, every morning, flashed across his mind. Up at 5:00, gym by 6:00. At his desk for 7:30.

    He tried to conjure their faces, their voices. All he could see was them sleeping. Sleeping when he left and again when he arrived home late each night. Small bodies entwined as they’d been since before they were born.

    Now they were seperate. Seperate bodies in seperate beds. For the second time in their short lives dependent on technology to keep them alive.

    Now as then, he stared at the mechanical rise and fall of their chests. At the tubes and wires doing their bodies’ work.

    Oncoming driver, heart attack.

    Dead before he crossed the line.

    Jill was okay. Physically. But the boys.

    If they made it through the day, the night, tomorrow.

    He took a sip of long cold coffee, stared at their sleeping forms.

    And begged them to wake up.

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