The Iron Writer Challenge 102
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
Challenge 101 Champion
As Tiffany is already in the Annual Tournament,
advances to the Spring Equinox Open
A Measuring Tape
An Event that changes a character’s personality
His soul had been trapped in the jeweled box for a century. The hundred-and-thirty-year difference in their ages left gaps in conversation.
“We played tetherball in the Army in 1895…” he said, after she explained the Super Bowl.
“That’s not even a sport, though,” she said.
“I’m sure you would like haggis, my dear…”
“No, I googled that. I know what’s in it.”
She showed him Wikipedia and how to work the mouse with his semi-corporeal hand, and he spent hours filling the holes in his knowledge.
He never thought he would call a woman steadfast, but her confidence in her ability to release him from his ghostly trap earned it. Nothing about his old house (now her house) frightened her, either; not the bloody puddle on the stairs every morning, the measuring tape that turned into a snake and bit her, the rocking chair that wouldn’t stop. Or him, the ghost. She painted, swept, dusted, repaired until the house looked as it had when he had walked and breathed there.
She loved his square shoulders, the way he set a formal table and read books. He was handsome in a way that men weren’t anymore. He wasn’t sloppy, wrinkled or slouching. If she could finish the house, he would be freed, she was sure. Whether he would fall fully into her world or float to another was unclear, but regardless she had to work harder.
“Do you like this color?” she said.
“How do you live on your own?” he wondered.
“It’s my money. What could my parents say?” she shrugged, and painted.
His protectiveness was charming but like a blanket on a warm day, unneeded. Or so she thought.
Tattered curtains hit the dustbin, and the city beyond the windows she cleaned had transformed itself since he walked those streets. She had a party. He lurked at the edges, unseen. Her friends were like her, irreverent, charming and smart. In his age such women were loose. These women were jewels, and she was their center.
He almost surrendered despair. He almost believed he was free.
The trap she finally sprung with all her endeavors unleashed not him, but a terrifying smog. It billowed up from fragments of an old letter in the ashes she cleaned in the cellar. She thought it was a hallucination, but the very real teeth wrapped around her arm finally dislodged her fear. She beat it back and fled upstairs. He recognized the black thing chasing her, and for the first time she saw his anger. He stepped between her and the demon and fought. It overwhelmed him until he rose up larger — filling the room, a monster, his face a horrible mask of rage. He took the jeweled pin from his chest and lashed at the demon, and it exploded and disappeared.
Relieved, she sought his face, but he was still terrified. The evening shadows came alive and swallowed him whole.
No more puddle, rocking chair, tape measure or him. The house remained, and the jeweled pin, but he was gone.
Becky McGill skipped down the hallway to her locker. She tossed her chemistry book in and slammed the door shut. It was finally Friday!
As she exited the school she took a moment to inhale the warm spring air. She was a happy girl, and the changing of the seasons exhilarated her. Then she made her way to the football field. She was going to cut across the field and woods on her way home.
But under the bleachers an ambush awaited poor Becky. Three mean girls jumped her, punching her and grinding mud into Becky’s red braids. They tore her favorite blouse. Then they ran off laughing.
Becky seethed as she trudged past the tetherball courts on the way home.
The three were chatting and giggling in their treehouse a couple of hours later when Becky came to call.
She climbed the ladder and poked her head through the door in the floor. After getting them to line up against the far wall she fired three quick shots.
Then she went to work.
Back at home she went into the garage. She chose a few pieces of wood from the pile left over from her father’s latest home improvement project. Carefully, using her father’s nicest measuring tape, she marked and cut the wood into pieces. With grim determination she hammered the nails to form boxes.
Using her bike this time she traveled to the school and let herself into the auto technology area. Inside was the St. Patrick’s Day float that would represent the school tomorrow in the city parade. She and a handful of other students had worked on it for over a month.
She arranged the boxes on the float and decorated them with garland. Once satisfied with her work, she rode home.
The next morning was St. Patrick’s Day, always big in Becky’s house. She helped her mother in the kitchen. There was a lot of work to be done once the haggis was put on to boil.
That night, after the big meal, she sat down with her parents to watch the evening news.
The big story was the parade.
Her mother cried. Her father kept exclaiming, “What the hell?” Becky sat there, smiling.
The parade had to be stopped shortly after it began. It seems that on the school’s float there were three severed heads, neatly placed in gaily decorated boxes so that the crowd got a good look at the faces.
And now Becky knew how to deal with bullies if it ever happened again.
Everything around her was white. She screamed, but there was no sound, no one could hear her at all. Only Old Sal, barking and yelping…
She sat straight up in the bed and ran to the window. Out in the yard, a black bear slapped at her old dog, Sal.
“Jack, help him! He’ll kill him!”
Jack grabbed his shotgun and ran out back, but it was no use. Old Sal was gone.
They buried him near the fence.
“I set a trap,” he said. “If he comes around, it’ll kill him. You’ll be safe,” he said and tossed the measuring tape on the desk. “I made sure it was at least 100 feet from the house.”
“What about the cat?” she asked.
“Keep her inside until I get back,” he said. ”Maybe this year we’ll eat bear stew for our anniversary,” he winked. But sadness tainted his beautiful, sky-blue eyes. He pulled his black wool cap over his ears and turned to leave.
Next day, she made Haggis, their anniversary tradition because they’d honeymooned in Edinburgh. She dropped leftover pieces of meat into the cat’s dish and watched the yard for signs of the bear. Sal’s lonesome grave, with its pine branch cross, made her heart ache. It was well past six. He should be here any minute, she thought.The smell of roasting meat filled the house. Rain dropped on the old tin roof. Cold air blew under the doors, rattled the windows. Hours passed. He still wasn’t home.
Just as the fire died down it began to really snow, so heavy that even the trees faded from sight.
Then the power went out. As far as she could see, there was no light, not even a moon.
She climbed under the warm blankets and slept.
He cried out to her, his blue eyes pleaded for help. Way out in the woods, Old Sal barked and barked.
At daybreak she awoke afraid.
The earth and sky were alabaster white.
Even the jonquils stood frozen, unable to believe their fate.
The old tetherball hung from its pole, as if it had tried and failed an escape.
Near the tetherball, something black was half-covered in snow.
It looked like the cat. Could she have gotten out? Her heart raced. She pulled on her coat and there was her phone, in the pocket. He’d called three times.
“Here, kitty…,” her voice echoed across the frozen yard.
Her bare feet numbed more with each step. Tears stung her eyes. But as she came closer, it was plain that it wasn’t an animal.
She knelt and wiped at the snow.
When she saw the wool cap, still pulled over his ears, she could not breathe. Her heart no longer beat. His leg was twisted beneath his body, his ankle snapped between steel teeth.
She called to him, over and over, but he could not hear.
His blue, blue eyes, were wide, fixed on something she could never see.
The wind howled and shook the trees.
Everything was white.
And even though she screamed and cried his name, she could not make him hear.
Jason T. Carter
The competitive fire in twelve-year old Jesse’s bones led her to accomplish many things that boys his age only dreamed. He won every spelling bee at school, ran the forty-yard dash faster than anyone else, and was a five-time tetherball champion at summer camp, winning every year since he was seven. When Jesse learned a haggis hurling competition would be held just twenty miles from his house, he begged his mother to allow him to compete. All participants under the age of eighteen needed parental consent.
Mrs. Lightfoot was hesitant, concerned that Jesse was too competitive for his own good. Some saw him as a bully on the playground, overly aggressive in his attempts to win every game. She explained to Jesse that he should let other kids win sometimes, to make them feel good about themselves. “Then what’s the point of playing?” he asked, but she had no answer.
Jesse finally convinced his mother to sign the permission slip, and to drive him to the haggis hurling competition in August. Over three hundred people attended the event, and thirty had registered to compete. Jesse was the youngest of all.
The first hurler, a brawny man named Stefan, stood six-foot-five and wore the traditional Scottish kilt. He chuckled when he saw Jesse standing in the players’ section. “Little boy has no idea what he’s in for.” Stefan bent over, rubbing his hands in the peat before selecting his haggis, and stepped up on the half whiskey barrel. The Clerk of the Heather blew the hooter, and Stefan wound up his arm four times.
The haggis left his hand with such force, the entire crowd gasped. The Steward of the Heather jogged out with his measuring tape, and shouted the distance, “One hundred seventy-four feet and three inches!” The crowd cheered, Stefan clasped his hands together and held them above his head, confident no one would defeat him.
The next competitor was Jonas, who hurled his haggis one hundred sixty-two feet and four inches, but was disqualified because it burst open when it landed. Jesse continued to watch several grown men toss, none coming close to Stefan’s distance.
As Jesse stepped up on the half barrel, Stefan mocked him. “Why even try, little boy? You know you can’t win.” Jesse had never been nervous when he played a game before, but now he wished he had listened to his mother. He wished he had never even heard of haggis hurling.
Jesse wound up his arm four times, letting the haggis fly from his hand. He knew it didn’t go far, but he couldn’t watch. He stepped down from his perch and ran to his mother, tears streaming down his face. The crowd roared with laughter, but Stefan could be heard cackling over top of the masses. “Maybe in ten years, little boy!”
Jesse moped around the house for days after the event. Mrs. Lightfoot offered to take him to the batting cages, miniature golf course, the go cart tracks. But he just wanted to sit and watch television.
“So, let me get this straight Mrs McGarvey”, Detective Fairburn leaned across the kitchen table. “You only decided to prepare the haggis at the last minute?”
“Aye Detective, that’s right”, the woman sat across from him at the table replied. She absently mindedly dabbed at her moistened eyes with a tissue.
Outside the window a team of forensics dressed in white overalls painstakingly catalogued a burnt patch of grass with a measuring tape.
“I canny remember the last time we had a traditional Scottish meal. And what with visiting the highlands, I wanted it to be something special that the wee bairn could enjoy, make some memories, you know?
“Well you’ve certainly achieved that”, said the detective. “What possessed you to take it outside?”
“We were only renting this place overnight, and it is offal after all. I did ‘nay want to stink a stranger’s house to high heaven now did I? I’d used my own recipe, extra cooking sherry and all. But I suppose I’d used too much. The whole thing was a soggy mess, so I wanted somewhere where it could dry off. I thought maybe if I hang it outside for a bit, it might firm up in time for cooking.”
“And that’s when you saw the pole outside the window?”
“Aye, that’s right. Good a place as any.”
“And where was your husband at this time?”
“I sent him to the shops we’d passed earlier on our way here, to get some cigarettes.”
Outside one of the men in overalls was salvaging a gold watch from the charred earth and placing it in a plastic bag.
“Was your husband a violent man Mrs McGarvey?”
“Violent? No. He’s…was… a very gentle man. What are you suggesting Detective?”
“It’s just…the analysis suggests that, in order for what happened to occur, there would’ve needed to have been considerable force applied.
“Stewart does get very competitive when he’s involved in sports, especially if he’s playing against wee Dougal. It’s like a change comes over him.”
“And yet you did nothing to stop him?”
“No. I was in the back of the house, see.”
“I see. Was he quite sporty, your husband?”
“And yet he smoked?”
“Only when he was outside, never in the house.”
One of the men in white overalls entered through the back door and handed the Detective a slip of paper.
“Hanging in the afternoon sun”, Detective Fairburn said, “it seems the warmth triggered a chemical reaction between the cooking sherry and the offal inside this haggis of yours, causing it to slowly expand. To a layperson arriving back from a trip to the store it would’ve looked just like a tetherball.”
“Methane”, the Forensic interrupted, “Poor bugger never stood a chance.”
“Mrs McGarvey”, Detective Fairburn leaned forward across the table slapping a pair of handcuffs over the woman’s wrists. “I’m arresting you on suspicion of murder.”
“But it was an accident!”
“I don’t think so Mrs McGarvey. Haggis is not something you cook lightly.”