Flash Fiction: “The Eternal Lunchroom” by Jason Schreurs

The runner-up story in our spring flash fiction contest judged by author Katie Bickell

Brevity is one of the most difficult skills a writer can master. That’s why we put the prowess of students of Katie Bickell’s spring semester class, Packing a Punch: Big Stories in Small Spaces, to the test.

We invited attendees to write a piece of flash fiction — 300 words or less, of course — judged by Katie herself. We are pleased to publish the winning stories.

Here’s what Katie Bickell, a short story master, had to say about the runner-up story, “The Eternal Lunchroom” by Jason Schreurs. (Read the first-place story here.)

A writer after my own gritty heart, I am impressed by Schreurs’ enthusiastic use of metaphor, imagery, and word choice in this piece. This story is about an office worker haunted by the mediocrity of modern life and I enjoyed the references to relevant pop culture (“…my face turns Fight Club purple…” / “… I (lumber) toward it like Mr. Burns from the Simpsons, hands seized in claws…”) and how the author showed the protagonist’s discontent with the comfortable-but-boring rather than “telling” the reader or resorting to histrionic dialogue (“I toss and turn, twisting under a queen-size duvet on a king-sized bed.”). Great job!

“The Eternal Lunchroom

I find myself on the “wipe your feet” doormat of my life, but I never do. My work/life balance is shameful.  I binge-watch miniseries about shit like ice fishing while flicking potato chip dust off my jowls. I toss and turn, twisting under a queen-size duvet on a king-size bed.

Work is humiliating; a reinforcement of the system holding me down, man. I’m living cubicle life on an emotional coffee break. No talk around the water cooler. No water cooler. I’m like congealed leftovers crammed into the filthy lunch room microwave, waiting for that eternal, eventual ding. 

I didn’t notice the renovations when I slumped in for my morning coffee; an opaque plastic sheet hanging in front of a punched-through wall. It isn’t every day the office changes. Come to think of it, in the six years I’ve been here nothing has changed. 

I pick at limp green beans and a coin-sized piece of steak, mostly gristle. The daily lunch.  

The plastic sways from the air conditioning, like a ghost that died and came back as a ghost. The sheet has a viscous gleam, like someone poured milk down it and licked it into a smear of spit and milk. My Spidey senses hit overdrive. No fucking way I’m getting any closer. But, of course, I do, lumbering toward it like Mr. Burns from the Simpsons, my hands seized in claws, reaching. 

I inhale, exhale. I inhale again, but don’t exhale. My face turns Fight Club purple. One, two, three, three and a half… exhale. Some good, old-fashioned box breathing. It was better to be prepared. 

It takes all my nerve to pull back the sheet. Behind the translucent veil is a workplace game-changer—a last-ditch glimmer of mediocrity.

About the author: Jason Schreurs is a writer, punk rocker, mental health advocate, and host of the Scream Therapy podcast. The podcast and his forthcoming book, also called Scream Therapy, are about punk rock as a catalyst for mental health. Jason lives in Powell River, BC. Learn more about him at jasonschreurs.com.

You can read the runner-up story here. Congrats to the winners and thank you to everyone who entered!