The Iron Writer Challenge #2
2013 Iron Writer Summer Solstice Challenge #2
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
Ruby Red Slippers
A Russian Olive Tree
The B-17 Flying Fortress was a sitting duck. Two engines were ablaze, and gunner Charlie Jackson, staring through a hole in the shattered glass of his Tucker Turret, froze as an ME109 swooped in for the final kill. Just as the German pilot was about to open fire, Charlie sat bolt upright in bed, with perspiration oozing from every pore in his body. When would this continuously repeated nightmare end? It was 2012, and he was only 39 years old. Far too young to have been involved in World War Two.
He clambered out of bed, and headed towards the en-suite for a shower. He was due to see a therapist at 9.20am, and didn’t want to be late. A movement in the corner of his eye distracted him. He peered out of his bedroom window and observed a squirrel, scurrying across the lawn, with what looked like the fruit seized from a large, nearby, Russian olive tree. He considered the simplicity of the squirrel’s life, which was clearly hoarding food for the harsh winter months, and wished his could be as straightforward.
Charlie arrived at his therapist’s office five minutes early. He shuffled through the out-of-date magazines in the waiting area, but nothing grabbed his attention. He just wanted one night’s sleep without the sound of gunfire. The receptionist’s phone rang, and she quickly answered it.
She then looked across at Charlie and said ‘Doctor Mea will see you now.’
Thirty seconds later Charlie was outside a door with a sign announcing the occupant – ‘Dr I. M. Mea’. He knocked.
‘Come in’. The voice was female. It only then occurred to him he hadn’t even asked anything about this particular therapist when he made the appointment. He opened the door and entered the room. It was very spartan with regard to furniture, but Doctor Mea made up for that in abundance. She was Oriental in appearance, and was wearing a brightly coloured kimono and ruby red slippers.
‘Please Charlie, come in and take a seat. I can call you Charlie, can I?’
Charlie nodded, and sat in the seat he was shown.
‘So what brings you to see me? The notes given to me by my receptionist suggest you are having problems with a dream.’
Charlie shook his head. ‘Not a dream doctor, a nightmare. It starts with me being told, as I climb aboard a Second World War aircraft, that the dream will continue every night until I kiss a mermaid on the lips. How am I supposed to do that? Mermaids don’t exist.’
Charlie’s new therapist burst out laughing, walked across to him, and kissed him on the lips. He recoiled in shock. ‘What are you doing woman?’
‘Curing you of your nightmare. You are now cured Charlie. Jackie on reception will take your payment.’
Charlie was speechless, left the room and glanced at the sign on the door one more time. ‘Dr I. M. Mea.’ It was an anagram, and that night he slept soundly.
The sun’s position told Jacob he’d better hurry home. If he was late, his mother would scold him: “Tardiness is disrespect”.
He left the shade of the Russian olive trees. His grandfather had planted them for erosion control. They could grow where no other tree would, but now the government said they were a nuisance. His father pondered on taking them down, but Jacob hoped he wouldn’t. He loved their stark determination, the fragrant flowers in spring and even the long prickly thorns.
As he neared the house, he noticed Gabe’s car in the drive and ran into the kitchen. “Gabe, what’re you doing home now? You aren’t supposed to be here til Saturday…”
His joy turned to dust as he saw his mother clutching his brother with tears running down her face.
He stopped in the doorway, his chest still hitching for breath.
His mother turned her head away. Gabe motioned to come sit at the table, but Jacob couldn’t make his feet move.
“Jacob, Dad’s in the hospital.”
“No, he’s not! He drove to work this morning, I saw him.”
“I know, but after he got to work he had a heart attack. They called an ambulance for him.”
Jacob walked to the table and ran his fingers over the oiled red and white cloth. “We should go see him, then.”
Gabe knelt beside him. “We can’t right now, Jacob. They’ve taken him to surgery. The doctor said we should wait here until they call. It’ll be awhile”
His mother dropped into the chair on the opposite side of the table and Jacob took a step back.
The scent of bread and coffee made his stomach clench. It smelled too normal, like an ordinary day. Jacob ran to his room and shut the door, trying to catch his breath.
He opened the closet door and pulled the cardboard box out of the darkness.
He lifted out the replica of the B-29 bomber with the bubbled Tucker Turret. His Dad gave that to him. He loved pretending to sit in that bubble with the whole world spread out beneath him.
Next he found the animal figures. There were all the jungle and desert animals, many creatures from beneath the sea and a mermaid. He had wondered about the mermaid. All the other animals were real but not mermaids. His Dad said they may not be real, but the spirit of the mermaid mattered. She represented all the dreams and wishes of children all across the world.
Last there were the ruby red slippers. They had all gone to see The Wizard of Oz about three years ago and there were souvenirs for sale. Everyone thought he’d ask for a flying monkey or a Toto figure, but he wanted the ruby red slippers. He knew he only had to slip them on, click his heels together, and he would be home, safe and happy.
He clutched them in his hand and shook his head. Then stood and dropped them in the trashcan beside his bed.
She woke in a daze on the couch just as dozens of grasping hands reached up from a riverbank attempting to drag her back under the flowing water. The pages of her dog eared copy of Dante sticking to her face, her heart still racing and her mind focused on the horrors still clutching at her from her dream. Rising she tripped over her blood red bedazzled party shoes. Last night her date called them her ruby red slippers, she even clicked her heels three times to give him the hint it was time to go home. Instead he smiled down at her, winking as he encouraged one more drink.
The fire must have burnt out sometime last night; even with spring on the horizon the air was chilled causing her to draw her ratty sweater closer around her aching body. She shook her head to rid herself of the memory the pain provoked bringing her heart to a slower tempo. Only to have it rise as shadows from the underworld crept from behind the cold wood stove. Obviously The Divina Commedia tainted her dreams more than she realized. A ribbon of dream forced its way to the surface. She could feel the claws sink into her leg again, the demonic mermaid, a replica of one from Fontana di Nettuno, dragging her back under the water to more darkness. The memory of stone breasts shooting burning blood instead of water, coating her face slick as a pain-filled scream threatened to vomit forth. This was not what she usually dreamt after reading from the cantos, but after the evening she experienced, what did she expect. Maybe she should have read the boring military historical her father had lent her.
“Oh yes!”, she thought as a smile teased the corners of her mouth. Learning about the different types of turrets used during WWII would probably have been smarter. But with her luck she would have dreamt being gunned down by a rusting Tucker Turrett as she ran through thorn ridden branches. She shook her head in an attempt to clear the fog from her living nightmare, but nothing was stopping the real horrors from breaking through and her heart began to race again.
The kettle started screaming causing her to start; knocking over the cup already prepared, two spoons of brown sugar and splash of cream coated her bruised legs. She let herself wake up to reality, her body sinking on top of the torn gown. Thorns from the Russian Olive Trees which surrounded the property line grabbing onto her legs tearing into her skin, again. Perhaps Dante was not to blame. A single tear ran down her cheek, maybe she should have let the mermaid take her. Staying in the underworld to terrorize others was a better alternative to what she must do this morning. Blood from the fresh gouges ran through the maze of those from where he had pushed her against the tree. Her legs forced apart leaving her unable to click her heels to take her home.
The little souvenir shop just outside Truth or Consequences, New Mexico was crowded today. Summer vacations were well underway. Dolores Delgado presided over the pandemonium with grace and a perpetual smile, masking discomfort. The little cut-rate bazaar was stocked to the rafters with snow globes, mounted jackalope heads and of course, Elvis memorabilia; the kind of trinkets that attract a certain type of discerning shopper.
Out back of the shop high walls surround a small grove of Russian olive trees. The dense foliage give shade and sanctuary to Dolores and her three sisters to lounge, after hours, in a cluster of small jacuzzis, made from inverted Tucker turrets.
In one corner, Dolores has installed a small museum to honor The Wizard of Oz. Hundreds of replica items are on display. Strains of the movie soundtrack are played throughout the store from opening to closing, and a slideshow of scenes from the movie shows on a screen above the glass case holding Dorothy’s dress, hand basket and ruby red slippers.
Every afternoon, just after one, Francis Fyte appears with lunch for Dolores and her sisters. Francis operates a small diner a mile or two down the road and has carried a torch for Dolores since he first saw her nearly ten years before.
“Hey, Francis! How ya doin’?” Every morning he swears to himself he will declare his love for her, and every afternoon her tinkling voice and warm smile chase away his courage. Today will be different, he thinks to himself. Today I have a special gift.
“H-h-here’s your lunch Dolores…” is about all he can manage. He sets about arranging the dishes on the counter, not daring to look her in the eye. He wonders again why she will only eat at the counter. There are rarely any customers at this time of day. Why won’t she sit at the little dining area so they can chat? Maybe she uses the counter as a buffer to avoid any kind of intimacy? No matter, today’s the day and nothing will stop him… he hopes.
He sips his coffee and watches Dolores attack the shrimp with enthusiasm. Between bites she tells him stories of her childhood without ever actually telling him where she’s from.
For what seems like the millionth time, his eyes travel over what he can see of Dolores. Her wild hair with a greenish tint that never seems to stop moving, eyes as green and bright as emeralds and… her ample heaving bosom.
Casting all doubt firmly from his mind, he gathers his courage and stands as tall as his small frame will allow and declares “Dolores, I’ve brought you a present! I can’t wait another minute to see you wear it. With that he rushed around the end of the counter as he reaches into the bag he carried, taking out a pair of ruby red slippers he had made for her.
He dropped the shoes and fell away in a dead faint. Dolores is a mermaid!