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FLASH FICTION WINNER FOR 2022

In 2020, VisionCon held its first Flash Fiction Contest. The prompt was:

"You don’t know what you do for a living. You get in the car on Monday, then black out until you’re in your driveway on Friday with $10,000"

Contestants were asked to submit short stories of less than 1000 words that worked with this idea. The winner, "Odd Jobs" by Katie M. Bennet appears below.

Odd Jobs


Katie M. Bennet


"You aren't really going to answer that are you?" Travis warned, raising his eyebrows at his dad.
"Sorry, son, it's a client," he replied, phone aloft.
Typical.
His dad tucked himself into the bathroom with his phone while Travis slumped in an armchair. He nursed his cup of coffee, scowling when he noticed a black spot of mold on the rim. He spit the liquid back in and dumped the mug in the already-full sink.
When his father emerged from the bathroom, he had a guilty look.
Travis rose, indignant. "No. Not today!"
"It’s the last job I'll ever have to do. I can't say no."
Travis scowled. "Why?"
"I've been saving for something specific. This will get me to the goal. It's all I need."
"Can't this wait until I'm gone? I came all this way to visit you. You know I'm leaving for California next week, right? I'm not going to have money to travel back here all the time." Travis clenched his jaw to stop the tears that wanted to spring to his eyes. 
His father looked at his feet, right where his big toes poked through the holes in the faux leather. "That's exactly why I must do this."
"What do you do, anyway, dad? And none of this ‘odd job’ stuff. I want to know." Travis puffed up his chest, steeling himself. "It's time you told me what work was so important that you drove mom away and tore our family apart over it."
A vein in his father's temple pulsed. "I never meant to hurt you, Trav. Or your mother. It is odd jobs. I don't know how else to explain it to you other than that."
"Just try!" Travis yelled.
He looked at his son with an exhausted frown. "It's an AI agency. One of the new ones. It’s called Artificial Escapes. Ever heard of ‘em?"
Travis nodded. Finally, some answers.
"Well, these bots they can do pretty much anything a human can do, but some of 'em just want to know what it's like for a while to be like us. To have a real body. So they pay for the privilege."
"And what do they do once they have your body? Doesn't it bother you, not knowing?"
"There's a contract limiting what they can do. Besides, you don't think about it that way," He said, eyes scanning the water-stained ceiling. "It may seem strange. You don't know what you do for a living. You get in the car on Monday, then black out until you're in your driveway, on Friday, with $10,000. But the 10k makes it easy not to care what happened."
"I couldn't stand not knowing what someone was doing in my own skin."
"I've got to go, Trav. Thanks for coming to see me before your move."
"Oh, no," Travis said, determination making his voice stronger, "Today is take-your-son-to-work day. I've been dying to know what you've been up to all these years, and tonight—I'm going to find out."
***
"So, why do you pay to be my dad?"
The bot wearing my father's body regarded me with a sardonic grin as he sipped his martini at the bar. A shiver went down my spine as I watched the expression play out on the familiar face. The features were my father's, but the expression that played on his lips was completely foreign. The bot parted his hair on the left, unlike my father, who parted it on the right.
"Because my body is perfect."
"And that's a problem?"
"Well, yeah. Perfect aesthetics, perfectly symmetrical. There's no mystery, no variety, no surprises. Take your father's raspy voice, for instance. Have you ever seen a bot headline a band?"
Travis frowned. He hadn't, but he'd always assumed that it was because none of the bots had been interested.
"Our voices are perfect. And because they're perfect, they're boring. It's your imperfections that make you interesting. And the funny thing is," he said, slurring his words, "you all hate that about yourselves." He shook his head and took another big gulp of his martini. Then, he put his lips around the green olive and chewed, eyes closed. He smiled. "Did you know your father is a supertaster?"
"No, I didn't," he said, looking down. The bot drained the dregs of his martini. "One more?" Travis offered.
"Better not. Wouldn't want to return your father too worse-for-wear."
"One more thing. You're in there, right?" He tapped his forehead. "Can you tell me why my father does this? What's he need the money for? He won’t’ say." 
The bot tapped his lips with a napkin. "Can't. It's against the contract. Besides, I try not to access his thoughts if I can. It’s a bit of a downer."
Travis sighed. "Figures."
"But I can tell you," he said, pushing off the bar, "what has come to this body's mind spontaneously while I'm in it. Dreaming, for example. This body dreams a lot. Of you." He slid a business card under Travis' glass.
***
That Friday, his dad handed him an envelope, smiling as if he hadn't just disappeared for a week. The difference was, this time Travis knew where he'd been. 
"What's this?" Travis asked.
"Check the memo."
Paper brushed against paper as Travis lifted the envelope flap. A check with many zeros. Forgiveness, written in the memo. His hands shook as he squinted at it through tears.
"Student-loan forgiveness for you," his dad explained. "Maybe overall forgiveness for me. Someday."
"I never asked for this."
"I know," he shrugged.
"Will you keep taking agency jobs?" 
"I guess there's no reason anymore."
"I know at least one person who might be disappointed. But maybe you could work something out," Travis said, pulling out the bot's business card.
His father looked at the card, which bore his own smiling face as the headliner of an indie rock band, and he roared with laughter. "Well, wouldn't you know. I'm a cool dad after all."

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