DEAD WEIGHT • by Matt Cowens

The corpse was going to move. Tom was sure of it. He was taking the corner too fast and the dead body in the back was going to slide around, or worse, roll over. His shoulders rose up defensively and his knuckles were white on the steering wheel, but the thump he was expecting never came.

Dead people don’t roll around much. Mr. Giovanni had told him that.

He straightened up and glanced in his rear vision mirror. The sour-faced man in the passenger seat tapped the dashboard impatiently with a stubby finger and shifted his weight. The leather seat let out a strangled gasp.

They rolled up to a set of traffic lights and Tom eased off on the accelerator. He exhaled slowly as the car came to gentle stop, extended a finger to put the window down then withdrew it without touching the button. He checked his mirrors carefully, looked up at the lights.

A police car crawled into view behind him, flicked on an indicator and pulled up alongside. The police officer inside was a young woman, quite pretty, not much older than Tom. She glanced over and smiled at him. Tom swallowed hard and tried to get his face to remember what a casual smile looked like.

The cop car started moving and the stern presence in the passenger seat cleared his throat. The light was green. Tom rolled through the intersection, thankful for the smooth pickup of the automatic transmission. The Giovanni family kept their vehicles in top condition, for obvious reasons.

“Go left up there, at the roundabout,” the man beside him said. “Pull in over there.”

Tom’s eyes flicked from the road to the man’s pointing finger to his mirrors. His boss, Mr. Giovanni, had told him to stay quiet and follow instructions, and call him when it was done. If it went well Tom was to drive straight back. If not, arrangements would be made.

Tom didn’t want to force Mr. Giovanni to make any arrangements.

“Reverse in.”

Tom flicked on the indicator and reversed into the driveway. He kept his eyes fixed outside of the vehicle, staring through the rear window intently without dropping his gaze.

“Okay, kill the engine.”

Tom was relieved that the driving was over, though he was equally nervous about what was to come.

“Mr. Giovanni is an old friend, Tom. He told me this was your first time, to watch you closely. He’s proud of you.”

“Uh, thanks?” Tom mumbled.

“I know you were nervous about having a body back there,” the man said. “I would have been too. But you did great.  Perfect.”

Tom breathed a heavy sigh and slumped in his chair slightly.

The man smiled, his worn face wrinkling. “And Mr. Giovanni wanted me to tell you — the coffin’s empty.”

“What? But he said…” Tom sat bolt upright.

“Kid, he just wanted you to drive carefully. It’s one thing for an undertaker to lend an employee a hearse for his driving test; it’s quite another to let him take a dead body along for the ride.”

Matt Cowens is a writer and high school English and Media Studies teacher living on the Kapiti Coast of New Zealand. He has taught English in Japan, designed and produced card games, written and illustrated comics and is an enthusiastic amateur video maker.

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Every Day Fiction

  • fishlovesca

    Hah! Good twist! You got me! Well-written.

    Five stars.

  • The pacing was a bit too slow and I’m not sure the end was quite enough of a payoff.

    Even so, a well written piece.

  • tigerlily

    Ha! Great twist.

  • Margie

    Now, let me get this straight: Mr. Giovanni was an ‘Undertaker’ – not mob boss. Right? And he was lending his employee his hearse to take a driving test – not to get rid of a body? And I think that I figured out that an indicator is a ‘signal light,’like a blinker to change lanes or a back up light??? Other than that little bit of confusion (on my part) I actually loved the story and give it 4 stars.

  • Matt Cowens

    Margie – spot on 🙂 Indicator is NZ-English for signal light for changing lanes.

  • I like twisted tails, but there’s something quite dissatisfying about this story.

    In order to get the twist in the tale a series of unlikely things are necessary. A guy borrows a hearse for his driving test; he believes it (and doesn’t protest) when he’s told there’s a body in the coffin; a policewomen smiles at the driver of a hearse (with a coffin in it); and the driver believes that a body would roll round inside a padded coffin.

    So the twist is quite good, but it is a really forced lead-up, purely for the sake of the twist. The best twists don’t force us into misinterpretations, they allow us, through our own prejudices, to come to the wrong conclusion; hence, when the truth is revealed we also learn something about ourselves.

    Good story, but not quite a five.

  • Tell ’em to take-a-hike, Matt! For me this piece is well told and very enjoyable. Thanks.

  • I may not be as sophisticated a reader as Andy Charman, but I have to say the twist surprised me! Nice little piece, Matt.

  • Linda G

    Yes, I agree. Great ending and I thought the lead-up was quite believable even if Andy did not. Just last week I attended a funeral, it snowed during the church service, and the hearse had a hell of a time getting enough traction to make it up a small incline. Those of us behind the hearse were snickering that our aunt was getting the ride of her life back there and we hoped the rear door was secure. This is the first 5 I’ve given in weeks. Thanks!

  • Pyx

    I felt a little cheated at the end since the author with held information just to make the twist work.
    I did find three instances of pointing fingers too much for such a short piece.

  • I expected Mr. Giovanni’s friend to “whack” the kid at any moment, hahahaha! Fabulous misdirect, Matt. Loved it!

  • Sounds like my first driving test!

  • Cute, I liked it. The ending had a fairly nice twist. But somehow the whole thing was lacking, a little weak. I couldn’t quite bringmyself to give it a five, but it was a strong four.

    And I did notice that the author was using the “Queen’s English” rather than “American” but it wasn’t as bad as some I’ve seen. If there is a difference between British and NZish, I can’t tell.

  • This is one of the most perfectly written flash fiction pieces I’ve read. Five of course! 🙂

  • J.C. Towler

    I got to the end and thought “Ah, you got me.” Good read. The only nit I had was the same Pyx (10) noted about the repetitive pointing fingers. I thought the story bumped up to the line of being purposefully misleading, but never quite crossed it. Not enough so as I couldn’t enjoy it, which I did.

    For what it is worth, I do agree with Andy (6) about “The best twists don’t force us into misinterpretations, they allow us, through our own prejudices, to come to the wrong conclusion; hence, when the truth is revealed we also learn something about ourselves.”

    Well said, sir.


  • C.M. Mar

    I like the concept and the ending, but there were a few points that made me stutter. For instance, Tom has to be told that dead bodies don’t roll around much, especially bodies in caskets. Duh! Are we talking idjet here? Also, the seat belt let out a strangled groan??? Is the seat belt alive? are we going sci-fi? Little things like that detract from plausibility, better to leave them out.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    An excellent twist gives an alternate insight into the kind of events described. The story seems a little weak because the twist is on the one-time joke level, not reality insight level. Still, its well written and if we weren’t smothered in jokes right now would probably have stronger appeal. I thought the “twist” was well worked-out in the numerous details.

  • Brian Dolton

    Sorry, but I guessed the twist-that-wasn’t (i.e. that there is a perfectly innocent explanation and he really is driving a hearse) wy too early for this to work. The “hints” that he is some kind of mob hitman (keeping the vehicles in perfect condition, the use of an Italian name) were both too obvious and too broad for me to expect anything other than an “a-ha!” ending.

    I think stories work best if there’s a reason to read them again, and twist-ending stories so often rely only on the (attempted) surprise that they rarely make for truly memorable pieces of fiction.

  • Jen

    A bit confusing, I got the twist but it didn’t satisy me.

  • A nice little twist at the end, but a rather pedestrian path to get there. * * *

  • I enjoyed this story. I saw the twist coming, but I liked how you got there.

  • Robins Fury

    What a hoot! Loved it! Well done. Not overwritten in my opinion. Just right.

  • John Brooke

    Really smooth and slick incredible flash with considerable suction. I was suitable surprised and caught by the revelation at the end. Well done, super read. Thank you.

  • laura

    loved it! what a superb twist at the end. nicely done. the only minor thing that threw me was the word “roundabout”. if the story is set in new zealand, great, but if is set in say new york or boston (where a man by the name of mr giovanni could operate), then it would be called a “rotary”. thanks for the good read.

  • Most entertaining.

  • Rick

    A fun story to read. I look forward to your next one.

  • Nice piece!

    The sentences were crisp and tight. The ending surprising. Good job!

  • Laura –

    Don’t know where you are from, but what the author called a “roundabout” and you called a “rotary” … well, I would call it a “traffic circle.”

    Gee, isn’t it great how we all share this common language called “English”? 🙂

  • @laura (#24). I don’t think there is anything preventing a man by the name of Mr Giovanni from operating in New Zealand either.

    **** from me.

  • Cute story
    5 *****

  • Thanks for the comments/feedback! Very much appreciated 🙂

  • A very good sense of misdirection, worthy of a noirish mob story. Well done!

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