The Iron Writer Challenge 107
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
Challenge 106 Champion
Each story is scored by a panel of Iron Writers
based on three categories:
(Grammar/Spelling, Use of Elements, Story Arc/Plot)
The popular vote is the tie breaker (SO VOTE!).
An imponderable question (such as, but not this one:
The person who cleans public restrooms
“Feed the mosquitoes with me,” he said.
“Excuse me?” she said. “What do you mean?”
“I mean I’m Buddhist. I believe even the tiniest creatures deserve love and attention, even the ones people find annoying. I don’t kill mosquitoes. I feed them.”
“What? Do you think you’re some kind of spoiled débutante parading around waiting for the world to adore her? You don’t have the time for someone or something worse off than yourself?”
“Hey! That’s not fair. Yesterday, I gave a homeless guy money to buy a sandwich.”
“I’m sorry. That true. I did see you do that. I’m just saying you can always go deeper with things. Buddhists believe there’s nothing too demeaning if it’s in the name of helping others. Didn’t I ever tell you that I had to take a job as a janitor to make ends meet once? Plunging a public toilet isn’t a classy job, but I did it. Come on. Go deeper with me.”
There was something intriguing about him. She had spent time watching his patient eyes in their Philosophy class, getting a mild headache trying to keep up with all of his deep thoughts. He was the type of guy who said things like, “If God were a piece of music, what would he sound like?” She didn’t even know how to begin with a question like that, but that’s why she liked him. Because he was deep. So, she agreed to go deeper.
It was a hot, sticky July day in Minnesota. He rented a row boat and took her to the lake at sunset. The mosquitoes descended immediately. A black cloud of hungry mouths pricked their soft, delicate skin with the precision of acupuncture needles. She put her arms around his neck to stop her natural impulse to swat them away. She paid attention to the ridge of his shoulder blades and ignored the pain.
They stayed until the last flash of sunlight faded from the clear water.
“We should be getting back,” he said. It’s getting dark.”
“Wait. Go deeper with me.” And she kissed him. It was just like she thought it would be. The way he kissed her made her feel like she was the most important living thing on the planet.
Now, he was gone. She had misheard him at first. “Tiger Next Monastery? Where’s that?”
“No, Tiger Nest Monastery. It’s in Bhutan in South Asia. I’ve been studying more and more about Buddhism. I have to continue my path toward enlightenment. I want to live with the monks. I love you, but can you go deeper?
“I can’t leave my family.”
“I’m so sorry. I have to go.”
“When will you be back?”
“I have no idea.”
“Please don’t leave me.”
“I have to. I’m sorry.”
She went to the lake at sunset when she missed him. She sat in a boat without his shoulder blades to protect her, and she never swatted the mosquitoes away.
Skin of the Tiger
Ellen Howard Attar
As Gloria handed me a towel to dab my lipstick, I asked “why do you work here? These people are horrid and condescending. Don’t my parents pay you enough for cleaning their house each week to keep you from scrubbing toilets at the country club?”
“I’m doin’ a little extra, saving up money to help Jason go to medical school.”
“Gloria, you know he wants to be a writer.”
“Your dad sent that boy to Harvard because he’s brilliant. I ain’t gonna waste his money by letting him wait tables an’ write stories. “
At the table, Tommy asked “why are all the waiters black?”
Father explained, “it’s just another of life’s imponderable questions. It’s impossible to know what motivates people. Some become bankers, some wash dishes. Wouldn’t it be presumptuous for us to question such life decisions? ”
“I’m going to the Himalayan Mountains next week”.
Mother choked on her chardonnay. “You’ve only been through three months of your debut; the season lasts all year. We’ve got hundreds of parties lined up; we’ve had all those dresses made.
“I’ve had enough conversations about fishing, hunting and football to last a life time. Sorry, mother, but I’m done. “
“We know you broke your trust three years ago. Living in New York undoubtedly decimated the last of your funds. You won’t get another cent from us until your wedding day!”
“World economics and marketplace analytics are still fascinating. After one semester, I had the sense to use my own money, and quadrupled my investment. I continue to invest and don’t foresee any financial difficulties in my lifetime.”
“As he came closer, I could hear his loud purring and the thudding of my own heart. He gently took the meat from my hand, and when finished, he lay in the warm sunlight cleaning his paws. ’Take me away’ I whispered. He looked into my eyes, asking ‘where do you want to go’. I answered ‘far, far, away, where no one can find me; where I can be free to live my own life; to think my own thoughts; to speak my mind freely’. He nudged me gently. I rubbed his head and scratched his ears. I slowly crept onto his back. He got up and stretched. I wrapped my arms around his neck. He started running. Faster and faster he went, until the trees were blurring by, the wind was roaring past my ears, water running from my eyes. I felt free, unafraid. I nestled my head into his soft fur as he leapt into the air, and we flew far away. “
Tommy rolled towards me, “where did the tiger take you Emmy?”
“A beautiful monastery perched on the side of a mountain. Soon, I will go back. When you’re older you can visit me. Don’t forget the Tiger Nest Monastery. Now go to bed, sweet darling.”
The next morning, Emmy and Jason were both gone. No one listened to Tommy as he explained that they were in the Tiger Next Monastery.
The woman dunked the mop in a plastic bucket.
In wide swoops, she moved the suds from one corner of the bathroom to the other, stopping short of the stalls.
“Is there a wedding here today?” A woman opened the bathroom door and asked, breathless.
“Down in the Big Top,” the cleaning lady replied.
“Thanks!” The woman yelled and ran down the hall, sandals clacking.
Dirty water squeezed from the mop. She shook her head,“Who would’ve guessed, a circus in the old Monastery, and now a wedding?”
The Strong Man and the Ballerina were to be married under the Big Top. The bride rode in on an African elephant, wearing a spangled pink leotard and white tights, carrying a bouquet of Tootsie Roll Pops and watermelon-pink azaleas. An enormous plume of white Ostrich feathers crowned her crayon-yellow curls.
The groom walked the tightrope. After an impressive summersault, he landed just to her left, a red plastic boutonniere stuck in the button hole of his lapel.
He lifted a hand to the tiny, beautiful dancer. She slid off the elephant’s trunk and joined him center stage. A pair of clowns and the Shortest Man on Earth played ukulele, classical guitar and harmonica, first performing a Beatles melody, then the wedding march, then another tune by Leonard Cohen.
“Larry!” A woman’s voice yelled from outside the tent. The musicians paused mid-song.
The lion raised his fur. The bride looked at her groom and Larry shrugged his shoulders, nodded for the band to carry on.
A gunshot pinged against something metal. “I’m warning you, Larry,” the woman yelled.
Larry, who was now called Steven the Amazing, unhooked his bride’s arm from his own and held up a finger to say, “I’ll be right back.” He strode out of the tent into the late afternoon sun. His red tuxedo jacket flapped behind him, creating a wake of ruffling faux-silk and dust.
The crowd was silent.
The bride shifted her weight from one ballet slipper to the other. Her silver sequins catching the spotlight with every movement, flashing like a million tiny polaroids, welding-torch, burn-out-your-retinas bright. But the crowd could not look away.
She was after all, a star.
Loretta knew who was out there. The thought of the debutante ex-girlfriend in the parking lot, crying to her almost-husband, made her bite into one of her petal pink fingernails.
People started to whisper.
Larry was shouting now. The debutante yelled back.
The lion paced.
But Loretta wasn’t scared. She had known it was dangerous, leaving her job at the bookstore to join the circus, then stealing another woman’s man.
It hadn’t been her intention.
The circus just happened to be there. And so did Larry.
It wasn’t her fault about the flat tire, or the fact that he’d wanted to help, offered to show her the way to Arab, Alabama, to the old Monastery. He’d laughed when she’d told him she was joining the circus.
But somewhere between the flat tire and the Alabama state line, Larry fell in love.
Daniel J. Sanz
The gunshot echoed, shattering the night as the weapon discharged. Derek was upon the attacker, redirecting the firearm and shoving him back against the graffiti choked wall. Behind the obscurity of the dumpster, tucked neatly between concrete and glass giants, the struggle continued.
The man fought for control of the weapon but a crack across the jaw impeded the effort. Derek disarmed him and flung him to the pavement.
Derek looked down at the young woman, scantily clad and shaken from the ambush. So naïve. These young, upper-class girls were so preoccupied with social statuses that these “débutantes” often neglected their own safety. Walking alone in this city they were prey among predators.
Next door, bass percussion of Club Tiger Nest rattled the alley. Constructed in the likeness of a Himalayan Buddhist Monastery, laced with neon and cheesy retro motifs, this establishment was no doubt the source of the young woman’s misadventures.
The thug charged again. Derek greeted him with a knee to the manhood and cast him down again. Brushing off his black overcoat and adjusting his flat cap to keep the shadow over his eyes, Derek peered down disdainfully. Trash.
Derek spent thankless days sweeping garbage and scraping away filth in the public bathrooms down at Festival Square. However, hitting the streets after work was where he would find the real dirt.
He offered a hand to the fallen maiden but her sudden white complexion told him the thug had recovered quicker than expected. He whirled around in time to divert the barrel away from his face. In an array of sparks and thunder the bullet exploded against the dumpster. Derek delivered a boot thrust to the knee, buckling it sideways and stripping the handgun away. He brought the metal grip down upon his attacker’s exploding nose. The man collapsed with hands up, choking on blood.
Derek coldly pointed the weapon at panicked eyes. What difference could I make here? The scum was no different than the crap he chiseled every day. Getting rid of it only to have it return again.
This man is a seasoned criminal, he justified to himself. She is probably not his first victim, but I can make her his last. Derek stepped over his bulk and pressed the barrel into his forehead, prompting a futile protest of coughs and sputters.
Perhaps by killing him, I save five others? Ten?
He tightened his grasp on the weapon. Do I have a right to judge this man and condemn him in an unspeakable act? Is permanent justice worth the cost of morality?
His hand trembled and the thought became too impossible to ponder. Snapping himself from his trance he chucked the gun into the dumpster as red and blue danced down the avenue. He turned away from the defeated man. I’m not you.
Sirens wailed as they approached and Derek scaled the wall at the rear of the alley. The question burned inside him but he knew his answer. He’d do what he always did. I’ll just come back and clean it up again tomorrow.
An Imponderable Bathroom
Jim works in a large hotel as a janitor. It is usually his job to make sure that the floors are swept and mopped, carpeted areas are vacuumed and all of the public rest rooms are cleaned. Today was especially important as there is going to be a débutante ball in one of the ballrooms tonight so he was purposefully assigned to make sure the rest rooms are all kept clean before, during and after the event. Other janitors were assigned to floors details and trash details as well. Jim hated cleaning the rest rooms because they were usually nasty and filthy but it was quieter in the rest rooms and this meant that he could think. While Jim was cleaning a rest room, he thought about the débutante ball tonight and how it would be nice if he could marry a débutante because they come from “upper society” and upper society means money. If he could marry into money, then he would no longer have to clean rest rooms. During the cotillion that night, Jim was in awe of all the beautiful young ladies that were there dressed in all their finery and each one looked like a princess to him. He watched them being paraded around the ballroom and then watched them dance with potential beaus and he grew jealous. He was thinking of the grandeur of it all, as he cleaned a ladies’ rest room. Then one of the débutante’s walked in and was surprised to see him in there. They struck up a conversation and after a few minutes, Jim asked her if she would date him. She wanted nothing to do with him but gave him one chance, “If you can answer this question, then I will date you.” Jim replied, “Okay, lay it on me.” The young lady smiled and asked, “Why is a delivery by car called a shipment and a delivery by ship called cargo?” “Oh no, not an imponderable question,” he thought to himself, The young lady wrote down her phone number and handed it to him and said, “Call me when you have the answer.” Jim knew he would not easily find the answer and didn’t really know about how to find it out and then it hit him. He knew where to find the answer. The next morning, he grabbed a flight to Bhutan and then proceeded the trek up to the Tiger Nest monastery. He knew the Buddhist monks would have the answer. He was excited because he was done cleaning rest rooms now. Nothing but a life of luxury and leisure was ahead of him. Jim entered one of the temples and found a monk and asked him the question. The monk seemed puzzled and finally he told Jim to follow him. They walked to the main shrine where the head Lama resides and was told to ask him the question. When Jim asked him the question, the head Lama thought about it for a minute and left the room. Soon he returned with a mop and said, “Clean our restrooms and the answer will come to you.”