The Iron Writer Challenge #22
A Child’s Sled
I flinch as the blade rasps, scraping hair from the chapped flesh. Lilith, langouring in bed, giggles. She catches me watching and stretches so that dark half moons rise above the sheets. The hunger begins. Again. No time for that, though. As much as I want to stay, I have obligations. I kiss her, and she tastes like cinnamon, cloves. I pull reluctantly away and clomp downstairs where my children are ready for once, wearing the matching hats that their mother knitted for their first race. They’re petulant, determined to make me pay for the audacity of my morning upstairs. They’re always mad nowadays; it’s never enough. Hadn’t we gone out last night, just the three of us? Hell, I’d even sprung for popcorn at $7.50 a bucket. I’d only called Lilith once, but they’d acted like I’d spent the evening banging her in the back row. Oh well. I slather my hands with the sanitizer I keep in my pocket. It doesn’t help the chapped skin, but lately I’ve become obsessed with the stuff. Compared to her perfection I can’t help but feel dirty. I secure the kids’ sleds to the roof, and we are on our way.
The miles pass and the anger melts away. Soon we’re laughing like we always had. I look in the rearview mirror, transported back in time. My moody twelve year olds become chubby toddlers, and my beautiful beloved Karen is beside me. Then Karen’s laughter melts into Lilith’s deep chuckle, her blonde hair and blue eyes darken. I shake my head, brought back to now. Suddenly, we are there. The Milk Run was an Oldtown tradition, stemming back to the Civil War when children had braved a blizzard and enemy combatants to bring milk to sailors holding the siege. We check in; my kids are given their entry numbers and I my semaphore flags. Every year parents volunteer to help mark the track. I had been assigned to the outermost point, on the edge of the dunes. I give the kids a hug, wish them luck, and trudge carefully to my post.
It’s every bit as cold as I had anticipated, even with the sun glaring. I wait for the musket shot that signals the start of the race, for kids on their sleds with bottles of milk piled high. Sunlight reflects off the sand. The waves crash hypnotically. Soon the dunes became Lilith’s curves. The wind becomes her moans. Her nails score my shoulders as I taste her. Firelight plays on her skin as she rides me. Suddenly, the laughter of children breaks into my fantasy, and two riders crest the hill that became Lilith’s hip. They were mine; their hats sailing behind them. As always, they couldn’t wait to come between us. I turned and raised the flags. They rushed towards me, their sleds nearly flying across the ice. Then they really were flying, screaming and plummeting towards the waiting waves. I turned away headed for home, and for her.
Mishael Austin Witty
Minutes after Jed dropped the patient off at the hospital, he realized he had the kid’s sled in the back of his chopper. Everyone was too busy stabilizing the boy with the mangled legs to care if they picked up his toy. Jed had never seen such a horrific sledding injury. Or a more stimulating attending nurse. The memory of her enticing gaze as she’d handed him the lemon-scented hand sanitizer brought a smile to his face…and ignited other body parts. He shook his head, focusing once again on his mission.
That kid’s gonna want his sled back. Even if his parents didn’t. He’d never let his own kid go tobogganing again. Not after this. Still, Jed had to go back and return the thing. He couldn’t let them think he was a thief.
He knew he had enough fuel, but he flew at 1800 feet with the tailwind as an added precaution. The low altitude enabled him to clearly detect the November Charlie distress signal on the ground below. The bright blue and red checks and stripes stood out like a bruised thumb against the white drifts of fresh snow at the edge of the massive pine forest. In distress. Need immediate assistance.
There was just enough space between the woods’ edge and the rocky terrain of the Appalachian foothills for landing. Jed cut the engine, and the chopper’s blades whined to a halt. As he jumped out of the med evac’s side door, hugging his first aid pack to his chest, he scanned the terrain for any evidence of the signaler.
He stood, the trees to his left and the wide, rolling snow-covered hills to his right. In the distance, an ethereal form glowed brighter than the noonday sunlight bouncing off the frosty landscape. Jed couldn’t tell if the figure was male or female, or if it was even human. All he sensed was the light…and an instant attraction.
Thinking this must be the person with the semaphore flags, Jed raced toward the figure, the ice-covered snow crunching under his feet. He came to a skidding halt when he met the light’s source. The hot emergency nurse from the hospital.
“Are you in trouble?” he asked.
She laughed. A high, tinkling, seductive sound. “No. Why would I be?”
Jed ran a hand through his hair. “November Charlie.”
The nurse laid a frozen hand on his arm. “Do I look like I’m in trouble?” She slid her arm around his neck, drawing him closer. Her fingernails pricked like sharp raven’s claws.
“No.” Jed’s brow furrowed. “Who are you?”
She touched her tongue lightly to his earlobe, sending chills down his spine. “Most call me Lilith, succubus bride of Samael.”
“Succubus?” Jed choked. “But that’s a….”
“Demon?” Lilith nodded. “Yes, and you’re my chosen prey.”
She pulled his mouth toward hers. The kiss was sweet as strawberry champagne and foul as excrement, and Jed couldn’t fight the ice pick of evil that pierced his heart.
Phineas L. Donnison
“Does your family have a history of mental illness?”
Tammy slowly raised her eyes from the mound of paper work she was scribbling her name to. “No. Wait, my ex-husband’s uncle once drank a gallon of hand sanitizer and almost killed himself. But, in his defense, he said it was on a dare. Does that count?”
“I’ll take note of it,” the nurse replied.
“And, I guess, maybe my mother in-law,” Tammy offered. “I always thought she was a little off, but I don’t think she was diagnosed with anything- officially.”
“Oh, yeah? Tell me about your mother in-law.”
“Well, she was a real succubus. You know- a witch with a capital B, if you catch my drift. But, I don’t know if she was clinically ill or if she was just really disagreeable. But, like I said, I don’t know if she was officially…”
“I’ll take note of it.”
“So when do I get to see her?” Tammy was impatient. Her nerves were getting to her. She hated hospitals and the idea of visiting someone in a psychiatric hospital was terrifying to her.
“Carl,” the nurse called out. “Can you please lead Tammy to room 312?”
“Right this way Tammy,” replied Carl, a huge orderly with a pleasant smile. Tammy nervously returned the smile.
“So how’s your day going, Carl?” Tammy asked. Being nervous always made her chatty.
“Oh, not too bad,” Carl replied as he led Tammy through a series of secure doors and hallways. In one room, Tammy could see a man, obviously a patient, miming as if he was a signalman aboard an aircraft carrier, waving semaphore flags. Tammy gulped at the sight of the patient which Carl noticed. “That’s Jerry. Believe it or not, he’s an ex-naval officer.” Tammy smiled sheepishly at Carl who winked back at Tammy, sensing her nerves.
“How is she?” Tammy asked Carl as they made their way down the long hallway.
“I think she’s… better. She’s been eating all her food and we haven’t had to restrain her in days. It’s just baby-steps but I think she’s improving.” Tammy and Carl again locked eyes and exchanged awkward smiles.
“So here we are. Room 312,” Carl said as he opened the door. Inside room 312 sat Tammy’s daughter Stacy and a doctor both of whom greeted Tammy with a smile. “Should I stay here doc?” The doctor nodded ‘yes,’ and Carl followed Tammy inside.
Tammy gulped as she laid her eyes on her daughter. She was all nerves. “Are they treating you alright, honey?”
Confused, Stacy turned to the doctor, then turned back to her mother. “Good, mom. How are they treating you?”
Tammy’s breathing became labored. Her anxiety palpable. “Where’s your father? Where is that son of a bitch!”
Again confused, Stacy turned to the doctor, then back to her mother. “He’s dead mom. You killed him. Remember? With a child’s sled- You smashed his head in.” Tammy froze for just a second before she began shaking violently, then screaming.
The wind echoed in the darkness and ricocheted off the surrounding jagged peaks. It was the sixth month of the sixth year. The time had come. Ashal waited.
In the days leading up to the Event those at The Refuge lived on as normal, though it was never far from their minds. Few dared to speak about it but all wondered; maybe she won’t come, and, will we be safe?
The children, mostly unaware, brought some joy and laughter, playing in the mountain snow, flying down the hills in their sleds; their screams of delight filling the space.
Their leader hadn’t been seen in four months. They knew he’d been working, storing up all his reserves in preparation. He was their protector.
Now age 19, at the last Event Ashal had only been 13 and still too young for the succubus to be interested. But now he was a man. She was coming for him.
As the sun began to descend behind the peaks the residents began their rituals. Each person had a task and purification to perform. After everything was ready, the children were tucked away deep inside The Refuge’s walls. Then they formed their circles. Women and men, alternating each circle until Ashal was hemmed in, lying in the centre. The final task was performed and Ashal went to sleep. There was no light, only blackness. They were ready.
The Leader waited. He was the heart of The Refuge. Only his two attendants had seen him in the past months as he prepared. He was the resident’s protector, their keeper. He was honoured to have this position and felt humbled as he watched each new resident, over time, heal and become whole again. The Refuge was their haven, hidden away for those who needed a place to be safe and alive. But every six years this heaviness re-emerged. In the weeks preceding The Event nervousness would grow. Despite the safety the Leader provided they still struggled. He felt compassion for their weariness. He only asked them to perform their duties, rituals and to trust him.
The Event was imminent. He waited to hear word of the semaphore flags signalling. Then, he would begin his final body and hand cleansing with the ancient sanitizing and purification balm. And then it would begin.
The sun was now behind the peaks. The Leader, calm, waited. The residents, ready, waited. The air waited.
The bell rang indicating the signal had been seen.
The Leader started his final ritual. The timing had to be perfect.
Outside, they joined hands. Cold, darkness, pounding hearts.
Ashal heard her first.
Her scream. They felt the wind from her wings circling around them.
The Leader was beside him. Ashal could feel his presence. They were ready.
It was beginning.
His moment had come.