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2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge: Day 9

Write a piece of flash fiction each day of February with the February Flash Fiction Challenge, led by editor Moriah Richard. Each day, receive a prompt, example story, and write your own. Today's prompt is to write about a surprise gone wrong.

As always, if you’re on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram (or anywhere else), don’t forget to use the #FlashFictionFeb hashtag.

Flash Fiction Challenge

Today’s prompt is to write about a surprise gone wrong.

Remember: These prompts are just starting points; you have the freedom to go wherever your flash of inspiration takes you.

(Note: If you happen to run into any issues posting, please just send me an e-mail at mrichard@aimmedia.com with the subject line: Flash Fiction Challenge Commenting Issue.)

Here’s my attempt:

Woo-Woo Women

I shifted on my mat for the fourth time in as many minutes, earning a dirty look from Genesis.

“You’re supposed to be meditating,” she hissed.

I rolled my eyes and swept my eyes to the shifting, murmuring forms around us. “We haven’t seen the Guru in almost three weeks, and he calls a last-minute meeting? Forgive me for being a little excited.”

Genesis tossed her hair over her shoulder in a way that expertly drew attention to her overly stuffed sports bra. Her abs flexed as she held full lotus position. We’d started the program at the same time, but she’d always been able to pull off faithful fellowship easier than I.

She said, “Don’t be mad when the Guru picks me for this week’s Spiritual Example, Dharma.”

I opened my mouth to respond but decided against it. The Guru’s voice floated through my mind: Always choose the happiness of your fellow over your own. I repeated it to myself and tried to refocus on straightening my spine.

The Western Door opened, and the room went deadly silent. Even I was not immune to the presence of the Guru, my spine stiffening to perfect posture along with the majority of the crowd. I craned my neck a little as the leadership filed in, clad in extravagant robes and with beads braided in their hair. They took their seats on the mats closest to the Guru’s chair. We held our breath as one.

When the Guru entered, he was not dressed in his usual linen meditation outfit. Instead, he had on a brightly colored polo shirt and jeans. As he climbed the alter platform to his chair, I caught the bright flash of white sneakers. I looked over at Genesis, whose wide eyes mirrored my confusion.

“Uh, hello,” the Guru said. He did not sit in his meditation chair. Instead, he clasped his hands behind his back and rocked awkwardly on his heels.

“Good morning, Guru,” we replied.

“You were told that I have been away communing with God,” he continued. “This is not true. I am actually recovering from a heart attack.”

Though no one made a sound—we were too well-trained for that—there was the impression of a collective gasp. Some broke ranks to try and make eye contact with those around them. I just sat and breathed and breathed and breathed. The Guru had never had health problems before; at least, nothing that he discussed with us.

“As I lay in the hospital bed, I realized a few things about my life.” He spread his hands out like an offering or apology. “I’m a crook.”

This time there were some murmurs from the crowd. I could almost feel the tension radiating off of Genesis. The leadership sat like stones, their faces giving nothing away.

“I’ve been swindling all of you. I’m no Guru. My name is William Smith, and I grew up in a small town in Ohio. I’ve never been to any Asian countries, nor have I studied with any spiritual leaders or gurus. Everything I have ever told you has been a lie to get you to pay me … among other things.”

People were shifting now, hissing at each other, growing uneasy. My heart was in my throat. Genesis’s sweaty hand clasped mine.

One panicked voice rose above the crowd: “What are you saying, Guru?”

“I’m saying you should stop calling me Guru,” he said, “and probably go home.”

Home? I looked at Genesis in bewilderment. Was I supposed to tuck my tail between my legs and slink back to my husband after eight months without contact? Could I really strip away all this sacrifice, all this work, and go back to lonely, pathetic Mary, lurking behind the curtains of her home without friends, without anything that gave my life true meaning?

“I might be sick,” Genesis whispered.

I felt the same.

The Guru offered a few more placid statements, sounding like a politician who’d been caught out with a prostitute. He drew his hands up to his heart’s center, but instead of bowing, he cleared his throat and dropped his hands.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

Then he turned on heel and walked back through the Western Door.

The room stayed quiet until Harmony, the Guru’s second, rose from her mat to face us.

“We have been speaking with the Guru and with God,” she said. “If anyone would like to leave, we understand. There will be no repercussions. Return to the dorms and collect your belongings before you go.”

“Are you shutting down the temple?” someone called out.

Harmony hesitated; her expression was grim. “No. Our plan is to release the Guru from his spiritual duties so he may focus on his health. Then we will continue to pray until God shows us who will follow in the Guru’s footsteps and take their place on the Chair of Wisdom.”

There was a brief silence before people began to stand. I watched as people silently made their way to the Eastern Door, some with tears dripping from their chins, others turning red with emotion. By the time the Door closed, only a quarter of our community remained sitting.

But Genesis remained a rock at my side. We held eyes and spoke without speaking: I cannot go back to what I was. If you’re in, I’m in.

I took a cleansing breath and relaxed my shoulders on the exhale. I straightened my spine. Genesis squeezed my fingers so hard they hurt.

Harmony pressed her palms together and bowed to those of us who remained. “May our prayers be heard.”

“And our hearts be pure,” we replied.

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