All flash fiction must have a punchline, or an ending, and it works best if it’s surprising. Flash fiction is similar to jokes in this way. Take a look at this ‘punchline’ to my story. Maybe you saw it coming, but the cows certainly didn’t.
“Today is the first day of the rest of our lives.” Joab stood at the end of the field on top of a wildflowers patch. Mount Shasta loomed in the distance behind him, grand in its snow-capped beauty, an allegory of the universe and an intelligent design greater and more powerful than any one being, especially a cow.
“I had a vision,” Joab continued, “Friends, the humans will slaughter us no more. Look to the east.”
East from where Joab and the other cows had gathered was a construction site. A meandering corral in an S shape led to a squat structure painted in blinding white.
“Is that why the trucks hadn’t come?” asked one cow.
“The trucks!” yelled another cow, in high-pitched hysteria.
Many cows had seen it happen before. The humans would prod and wrangle groups of their friends and co-cows into trucks until not another cow would fit. The cows would moo and kick; their pupils dilated in a fight or flight craze. And when the truck was shuttered, and the humans exhaled in a job well done, the driver would climb into the cab and pull away disappearing down the long country road.
They never saw those cows again.
“Things will be better!” said Joab, “The humans will take us away no more. They are building a permanent home for us, where we will stay and live, right here, forever.”
The cows liked this. They liked the thought of walking through that S-shaped corridor. It seemed inviting. The humans had painted it bright orange.
“I like orange,” said a calf.
“It’s orange just for you!” said Joab.
That week, the cows went about their business, grazing, mooing, and basking in the sun. They talked about the weather and gossiped with one another. Sometimes they would look to the east and speculate.
“But how come the man with the needle came and poked me like always right before?” asked a cow.
“It’s not bad to get poked. It’s good!” said Joab. “The humans want us to be healthy and strong. Before it was poison, but now it’s medicine.”
“But how do you know?”
“I saw it in my vision.”
And so the cows were satisfied and had a blissful season. And the days were long and hot, but the nights were cool. And then the days got shorter and the nights turned cooler, until one day the snow-capped Mount Shasta became snow-covered Mount Shasta, with peaks like heavy whipping cream.
The man arrived with the younger men and threw open the gate to the S-shaped chute.
“We’re finally going inside. it’s too cold out here!”
The cows gathered around, Joab led the way. He stepped into the chute, the walls came in close, and hugged his sides. He felt comforted, his hooves stepped with confidence on the skid-free netting on the ground.
“Follow me!” he said. The rest did. But Joab could not see them. He led the way. And he followed the path until he reached the building. The chute continued inside and the wind had stopped. He heard the hum of machines and the vibrations of voices. Still, he walked and walked as if moved in a hypnotic trans.
He arrived to a contraption. It was shiny and u-shaped. The walls got more narrow, Joab walked right into it.
“My friends, it’s wonderful! I’m comforted and warm!”
A human arrived. He wore a big hat. He placed the stun gun in between Joab’s eyes and pulled the trigger.