The Iron Writer Challenge #8
2013 Iron Writer Summer Solstice Challenge #8
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
1884 De Dion Bouton Et Trepardoux Dos-A-Dos Steam Runabout
A Dung Beetle
A piece of Petrified Wood
Who wakes up at five a.m. on a Sunday morning just to go to a swap meet? Tyler thought on the drive from Las Vegas to Pasadena. He was with his father, Rick, and a trailer full of restored antiques from their shop. Not a seventeen-year-old kid who works twenty hours on the weekdays and another twelve on Saturdays.
Four hours later, they arrived at the famous Rose Bowl swap meet and Rick bellowed orders and helped Tyler slogged back and forth, delivering the goods from the truck to their rented lot. They had everything from 1930’s vending machines to the hand-made crafts his dad built in his spare time and one monster machine Tyler hated. Let’s see what was the big fancy name dad gave it? Oh yeah the 1884 De Dion Bouton Et Trepardoux Dos-a-Dos Runabout. A waste of space was more like it. It was heavy, awkward and his father treated it like gold.
The twin compound steam engine car was once owned by a French Marquis who liked racing the vehicle in Paris around 1900. It wasn’t for sale, but it was the best and most challenging restoration his dad’s shop had ever performed. Rick had turned it from a bucket of rust to the gleaming raven and gold runabout that it was now. It was museum quality and would be going to auction at the end of the month.
Carefully, Tyler set the framed photograph of the original piece on the vertical boiler to complete the before and after display.
“What’d ya think dad?”
Rick eyed the exhibit. “Looks good, Ty. Now, hey, I need to walk around this place and see if I can find some petrified wood for the coffee table I’m working on for Mrs. Burton.”
Tyler rolled his eyes. “Sure, I guess.”
“Make us a lot of money, buddy,” his dad called over his shoulder as he walked away.
Kicking back with his DSI, Tyler started his dirt biking game. Selling expensive, refurbished antiques in a venue with Ginsu knife barkers and people lapping up bargains like dung beetles in a field of cow patties was next to impossible. He might as well get comfortable and try to beat his high score.
Suddenly, the earth began to vibrate. Antiques clanked all around. Murmurs of voices ran through the crowds. Tyler jumped to his feet, spanning his body across the Tredpardoux. If anything fell on the runabout, his dad would kill him.
“Pardon?”A heavy man, in a dark waistcoat, ballooning knickers, tall boots and bowler hat said. He had graying hair and a Charlie Chaplin moustache. He looked he’d walked straight out of silent movie picture. “Sortez de mon véhicule!”
An aftershock hit and as fast as the man arrived, he disappeared. What the hell! The words the strange man said stayed in his head and as soon as the ground stopped shaking, Tyler reached for his phone, selecting Google translator. He typed the sentence the best he could and blinked as the answer stared at him from the screen. “Get out of my vehicle.”
“Make a bid and we’ll carve you like a Sunday turkey.”
“I think you watch too much television.”
Both of them opened their jean jackets just a little. “Do these look like we’re kidding?”
“They look like a Shopping Channel special. Authentic Ginsu knives only 14.99, but wait there’s more. Look I’m not here for the auction. I just wanted to see the car. I mean how often to you see a double steam engine, right?”
“We’ll be watching; don’t forget.” They turned, eyeing the crowd and looking for others to have a chat with.
Henry had been robbed a couple times and had a beat down once that put him in the hospital but being intimidated by a couple of 50 year-old farmers was a first. I’m surprised this doesn’t happen more often. Fortunately for me, this is Canada, or it could’ve been worse. Mind you, even farmers get to carry rifles around here.
The auctioneer checked his watch one more time, and, finding it to be noon, began the patter to excite everyone present to bid high and bid often. The newspaper listing had been clear that the household items would be sold first, followed by vehicles, the house, and then the farm.
Henry didn’t care about any of this, but still found his new farmer friends were back at his side a few minutes later. “So, guys, by the low turnout I’m guessing you’ve worked hard at shooing people away. Can’t say I blame you. What is this, the third auction this month?”
“Fifth. Banks just don’t care. So, why are you really here?”
“To see the car like I said. Mind if I go walking?” Henry moved away from the little stretch of brown grass surrounding the house and the auctioneer. That is one gorgeous view. He walked closer to the steep hillside of the Drummond the house was built on. These piles of rubble left behind by retreating glaciers dot the southern Alberta badlands and were a favorite for early settlers to build houses on.
“And the next item on our list is what many of you have been waiting for: an 1884 De Dion Bouton. Who will start the bidding?”
Henry started down the side of the cliff. “Oh my, what’s this?” Part of the cliff face had slid, exposing some fossils. “Kind of looks like a dung beetle in stone. Not quite what I need to find though.” Too bad the crops burnt last month; there’s nothing but black stubble as far as you can see. “What the heck? What is that?”
Going back up the hill was tougher than it looked. Any top soil had been worn off the cliff face by the constant dry wind during the past two years. Finding safe footing meant watching every step. Henry grabbed a piece of petrified drift wood and used it as a staff.
“Now the biggest lot we have up for today.” The auctioneer was in fine form as new bidders had emerged from stretch limousines. “Check your brochure for the legal description of the land and remember that does not include mining rights.”
Henry didn’t even hear the bidding; he was too engrossed with the view to care. It was hard to see unless you were looking for it, or, in his case, saw it before the grain and grass grew back after the massive prairie fire. “A double ox-bow. I’ve never seen one like that.” The stream which wandered through the area cut new beds depending on what spring melt there was until it doubled back on itself. The leftover part of the stream bed remained dry and, this time, was almost a circle. This time, it had happened twice in the same area. “That must have been a hundred years ago at least. Absolutely remarkable.”
“Hello? Hello? Right, speak up because I have really poor cell reception our here. He was telling the truth. Right. Drumheller, Alberta or really close to it anyway. It’s just like he said, a number eight in the ground.”
Henry put the phone back in his pocket. “I need to get a shovel. It’s going to be a long night.”
It was that night that her life chartered a course that time whispered to forever alter her in ways she could not imagine.
The bright stars playfully winked at her on a warm summer’s night. Marty smiled as she silently sat there in her wheelchair looking at them. It was a night just like tonight that she met Bill in 1925. Her then boyfriend Charles had taken her to the Grand Exhibition in Grenoble, to see Henry Doriol’s display of the 1884 De Dion Bouton Et Trepardoux Dos-A-Dos Steam Runabout. Henry was a friend of his.
After the exhibition, they sauntered the streets in the night until they reached the alley by their hotel. In a flash they were surrounded by a group of delinquent underachievers, bursting to rid them of their possessions. Marty stood there like a piece of petrified wood. Her heart pounded a stuccoed tempo but the rest of her body was frozen in fear. One by one, each of their taunting attackers circled around them like a dung beetle doing an orientation dance. She could not hear what they were saying or speak.
Charles was negotiating feverously like an infomercial for a set of Ginsu knives.
“But wait there’s more” he added in the plea for his life as he emptied the contents of his jacket pockets as well, shifting his boutonnière in the process. His pocket watch, handkerchief and a small velvet box was handed over to the leader who stood there with a blade directed at Charles’ abdomen.
He boastfully smiled at his gang and seemed contemplative as he extracted a small diamond ring from the box and placed it in his pockets with the rest of Charles’ belongings. A glimpse around him and a second for a breath was all it took before he stabbed and killed Charles. Marty screamed and fell to her knees beside him.
It was Bill who convinced his leader not to do the unspeakable after he beat her senselessly. He promised his gang to finish her off, once they left. Instead he rushed her to the doctors and vanished. All efforts to trace him in the maze of uncertainty, surrounded by myriad of unanswered questions were fruitless. Soft words and gentle pleas to hold on for him and onto him while she etched his face into her soul, was all she could recall.
She met Bastille Durant 5 years later. They fell in love, got married and had three children and accumulated a wealth of friends. With all their friends and family gathered there she took one last look at the stars.
“Ready my love?” He asked softly as he approached and stood in front of her.
“Yes my angel” her croaky voice announced. He gave her a whisper of a kiss and then proceeded behind her to turn her wheelchair around. A huge banner was suspended from the entrance door with the words:
“Happy 60th Wedding Anniversary Marty & Bill – 1990″
A knife plunged deep into the “petrified wood”—in reality lacquered corkboard—somewhere near Anna’s left shoulder. From the sound, it was one of Marcello the Clown’s storied Ginsu knives, which meant she should probably be grateful it was The Grenouille’s bad-aimed turn to throw. She’d seen what one of those knives could do to a tomato.
Right shoulder now, half an inch closer. Sighing, Anna looked across the center ring to where he stood grinning in tacky emerald harem pants and matching cloak.
“I’m going to get you,” he mouthed at her, flourishing his next knife. Anna pictured the knife hovering over a steaming plate of frog legs in garlic butter.
She felt a sharp pull as the knife stabbed uncertainly into the coil of golden hair just above her tiara. The hair wasn’t real (at least not after the first two feet, as Lord Percevel had learned the hard way; it was such a tall tower) but the tiara was, and if The Grenouille’s incompetence tonight cost her so much as a single diamond, the Ringmaster would get an earful.
The Grenouille pranced a bit more for good measure, while Marcello (why did his smile terrify her?) buzzed around the floor in his ancient steam runabout, tossing fake jewels to the children. The car was the old kind, maybe even the oldest. “La Marquise,” he called it, like the spluttering machine was a ship or a dragon.
“With La Marquise watching, we don’t have to worry,” Marcello often said, his own eyes gleaming. “She’s one great lady.”
Anna kept her wary eye on them both.
The Grenouille had flung the knife too wildly: it sailed clean past her and landed in a pyramid of horse manure where even the dung beetles looked embarrassed. The audience booed loudly, and Anna’s lips twitched as The Grenouille slunk off.
She turned her eyes toward the velvet curtains. Two knife throwers tonight, the Ringmaster had promised the crowd. Twice the knives; twice the danger! Philippe was in his quarters nursing a slipped disc, which meant the second thrower had to be dear, furry Jean-Marc, who was still in love with her, or Charmant, curse him. (Charmant’s ire was patently undeserved; if he’d disliked how things were going, he ought to have complained long before the whole glass slipper debacle.)
Marcello circled the arena again, now tossing candy. He circled back. Where was the knife thrower?
The car’s motor ground to a stop and Marcello climbed out, his painted smile fixed on her.
“My turn at last, girl,” he said, drawing three long knives out of the bag, “unless, of course, you can guess my new name. WITHOUT CHEATING.”
Anna growled in sudden recognition and frustration. Who could’ve guessed that one tiny misspoken magical word—the fairytale princess instead of a fairytale princess—would wreak such havoc?
“I don’t suppose you kept Rumpelstiltskin, eh?” she said as the first knife soared through the air.