The Iron Writer Challenge #179 – 2016 Annual Championship

The Iron Writer Challenge #179

2016 Summer Solstice Challenge Championship

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Authors:

Alis Van Doorn, Mamie Pound, Dani J. Caile, Daniel J. Sanz, Tina Biscuit

The Elements:

Halloween Night

Apostrophe as an literary device

An orchard (you must state the type of orchard: apple, pear, peach, etc)

Metal doors on a school building

DuskMamie Pound

Mamie Pound

The invitation was hand written and wax sealed, slid under her door.

            “The pleasure of your company is requested.”

                               Halloween Night           

The directions led her down a twisting, wet trail, along the thick of the bayou. A late hurricane near the Keys bewitched the air, sent her hair flying all around, like one of the long-dead apparitions that appeared in the windows of the ruined hotels.

Tupelo Trees, standing knee-deep in in the brackish water, looked like skirted, gnarled, old women, sprouted from the underworld.

And the behemoth, orange moon seemed complicit.

Chills danced along her spine. A dark forboding tinged her every thought.

But just as all seemed lost, she spotted a small cabin at the edge of the water.

She knocked on its metal doors.

No one answered.

She drew her velvet cape closer and knocked again.

“Who’s there?” Said a voice, low and smokey.

Instead of answering, she shuddered, imagining the beasts swimming under the dock,

and banged again. The sound reverberated past her, into the wading trees, who swallowed it and zippered shut.

And now stood silent, watching and waiting.

The door slid open. Before her was a man with the blackest eyes she’d ever seen. Darker than the depths of the Mississippi.

“Hello.”

His accent reminded her of the dock traders and the bearded pirates that sailed into the harbor, their tongues, a music of French and Cajun.

His teeth were brilliant, white and pointy. And while his smile was wide, his eyes were solemn, arresting.

She couldn’t find her voice.

Behind him, three other men sat at a table, holding cards. A haze of blue smoke hung above their heads.

She blushed.

“Most people say ‘trick or treat’,” he said.

“I must be lost,” she stammered.

His house was dark, only a blazing fire in the hearth and candles, even at the card table.

“I must be at the wrong house. Are you…?”.

His dark beauty,…she was unable to look away.

“Leopold Lessinger.”

There was a razor nick just under his jawline, so beautifully placed, it almost seemed purposeful.

He raised a hand to cover it.

“Maybe I’ve made a mistake,” she said.

Electricity crawled across the sky, silhouetting the orchard of Spanish Moss hanging from the Cypress. Thunder rattled the glass.

“You got my invitation?” he asked.

“So it was you?” she said.

“I’ve been watching you for so long. I can’t believe you’re actually here.”

“Watching me?” She felt faint.

“I meant waiting for you…” he whispered and kissed her hand.

And she found herself unable to think of much of anything, except his beautiful mouth. She wanted to draw closer to this complete stranger. Wanted to inhale him.

Her mind raced with fear and an insatiable hunger, unknown to her before now.

“Oh, blackest night, what trickery have you played? What spell must have you allowed the moon, that I hunger for this madness, surrender to its will?”

Without any other word, he slipped his hand behind her neck.

And she did not try to stop him.

In the darkness, a Screech Owl’s desperate cry echoed across the water, disappeared into the night.

Little HyenasDaniel J. Sanz

Daniel J. Sanz

It was Monday morning and Conrad Brown’s fingers were already bleeding. He grimaced and clutched the ratty sponge in one hand and a can of mineral spirits in the other. His knees ached from the tile but the obscenity of the black marker had about scrubbed away.

He straightened under the protest of cascading crackles in his spine and wrapped a towel around his wrinkled fingers.

“Brats.”

His voice echoed between the lockers of the school hallway. He relished the graffiti free-wall while he could. Any moment these halls would be a stampede of self-entitled, ungrateful larvae and he could foresee himself scrubbing the wall again before the day’s end.

Flinging the towel into the trash, he gave the receptacle a satisfying kick before shuffling back to his custodial cart.

Pushing it past the scribblings of ghosts and jack-o-lanterns that adorned the walls, he stopped to pick up a black and orange streamer that had freed itself from its scotch-taped binding. He cracked a frown realizing today they would be dressed up as the little monsters they were, on a sugar high.

Conrad looked ahead to a giant cartoon mural sprawled across the yellow bricked wall. “Arlington Park Little Hyenas” arched overhead the titular mascot, adorned in a cowboy hat and a beaming grin.

“Oh how you mock me!”

Conrad glared at his imaginary adversary. “How you laugh at me! Judge me! Watch me waste away into this servitude!”

He used to love that hyena, years back when he bounced around these halls, but now he couldn’t stand its sight. It reminded him of a fonder time in which afternoons were spent riding bikes, playing stickball, and picking apples from Montgomery’s Orchard.

Conrad scoffed at the memory. “The only apples kids appreciate these days are made of plastic and glass.”

He leered at the hyena.

“I’ve had enough, I’m done!”

He looked down the hallway towards the exit.

“Why do I stay here? I should have quit a long time ago!”

He drew in a deep breath. All he had to do was walk through those doors and he was free.

But it was too late. They kicked open against their metal frames and the thunderous boom rolled over him chased by the hollers of the incoming hoard.

A flock of waist-high goblins, trolls, and witches flooded in, reeking of insubordination and Butterfingers. He closed his eyes and waited for them to pass. His only solace was the thought of freedom as he exited that door and ignored the sea of candy wrappers that was surely waiting for him.

Suddenly he felt a small tug on his arm. He glanced down and a little ladybug stood before him. A hyena-like smile spread across her red painted face. She held a box of mini cupcakes. Orange frosting with black sprinkles.

“Happy Halloween Mr. Brown!” She handed him one of the cakes and scrambled off.

The bell rang and the halls fell quiet. Conrad stood there, staring at the cupcake. He looked back at the mural and sighed.

“Well what’s the hurry?” he asked, crouching down to pick up a candy wrapper.

A Story of O

Tina Biscuit 

O bountiful orchard, flourishing well. We furrowed your rows, in days that have gone. We planted your seeds, and built three strong walls; the gates of the school completed the square. Now, they are rusted, remember their squeal. The burgeoning children, who poured out to play, they tended your whips, and nurtured your heart. The whips spread out branches, a new ring each year – so did the children, absorbing the light. They played in soft snow, which melted to blossom. They knocked off your buds, with frolics of summer. Soon came the autumn, you offered them fruit. Before apples fell, was Halloween time. First it was strange, you thought it was dark; faces were painted, so frightful, yet fun. Your halcyon days had barely begun. O orchard, you were so young. 

The river was filling, the reservoir full. The clouds were so black, obscuring the sky. The lightning discharged, forks tearing through gloom. Your fibrous roots trembled; the rumbling began: your trees were predicting, the deluge to come. The riverbanks burst, collapsing the church, torrential cascades tumbling through town. Houses were spilled, as though they were toys. We thought of the children, marooned in their class. Helpless we watched, and prayed for their lives: twelve children perished; twelve spirits lost. 

We buried small caskets, in your tender care. You were our last hope, which wasn’t enough. We left you as pasture, for travellers’ succour. We still come to visit, the graves of the past; we still bring you flowers, to show that we care. They brighten the spot, where nothing else thrives. Your walls are entwined, with ivy and moss. Our bodies are old; the trail is so long. 

O orchard, we miss them, on this hallowed night. We feel the dead rising, no longer with scorn. Those twelve, tiny mounds, rustling with leaves: the quilts you provided, keeping them snug. Their bones are so heavy; they struggle to run. They dreep from your branches, their cold fingers warm. Halloween songs purge water from lungs; cries become laughter, and pain becomes sun. They dance through your avenues, spreading joy as they go. Children cavorting, under canopies green, reclaiming memories, they laugh at the moon. The metal doors drum, as they bang them for fun. The teachers are gone now, and so is their school. Of course they don’t know that; we’re sure you won’t tell. Give them their night, to play in your boughs; shelter their innocence, and don’t tell a soul. 

The peduncle snaps; your last apple falls: no longer forbidden, forever unpicked.

Hell, Yeah!Dani-J-Caile

Dani J Caile

Me and the gang were having a good ol’ get together for Halloween night, just like when we were young. Tom couldn’t make it, he was on duty at the Police station, tonight of all nights, but Arthur, Dave, Andy and Josh filled the living room with their noisy, rowdy behaviour. Except Josh. He’d taken a seat by the window and stared out at the night sky, looking forlorn. Thankfully, there were no plans to revisit any apple bobbing like we did back in ’99 after stealing a basketful from Mr. Wilson’s apple orchard down on Church street, but we were going Trick-or-Treating.

“Eh, Bob! I’ve got your costume here!” said Andy, throwing a Wonder Woman top into my face as I entered from the kitchen. Arthur and Dave had already chosen theirs; Batman and Robin, respectively. Andy was Superman, of course.

“Why do I get to wear the girly costume?” I asked, throwing them a few cans of beer. I attempted to pass one to Josh but he was oblivious to what was going on around him. A crumpled Spiderman outfit lay next to him on the sofa.

“Because you’re a girl!” screamed Andy, accompanied by laughter from the other two. The boys chinked their cans together and drank. Josh broke their silence.

“Oh, Moon, rise and let your cooling light douse my burning heart of pain; if you pity me, seize my desires, my hopes and smash them to the stars of the night!” whined Josh.

“What’s his problem?” I asked. Out of the five of us, Josh was the smartest, but unfortunately looked like a monkey’s arse.

“He fell in love with ‘you-know-who’,” said Dave. He wiped beer from his mouth and chest bumped Arthur.

“But she’d never go out with him,” I said. Andy dived on me and forced a long, black wig onto my head.

“Tell him that,” said Dave.

“Oh great, that’s all we need on Halloween night, a bleeding heart!” said Andy.

“Quiet, he might hear you,” I said, swapping my costume for his. Before anyone objected, I was Spidey.

“So? Are we ready to go out on the town?” screamed Andy.

“Hell Yeah!” we cheered.

*****

I counted four, including myself.

“Where’s Josh?” I asked. Something was bashing the inside of my head with a sledgehammer. “Anyone seen him?”

“Not me,” said Arthur, a hollow voice coming from the bowl of the toilet.

“I thought he was with you,” said Andy. Dave was still zonked out on the sofa with some green vegetable stuck up the back of his trousers. A mobile phone rang, it was Andy’s. After searching, we found it under a pile of empty cans in the corner.

“Yeah? Uh-huh? Oh. Right.” Andy dropped his phone in his pocket and headed for the door.

“Who was that?” I asked.

“It was Tom.”

“What does he want?” asked Arthur from the bowl.

“He wants to know why Josh is dressed up as Wonder Woman, completely drunk, moaning on about some ‘moonrise’ and chained to the metal doors of our old school building. Anyone coming with me?”

Oh, Brother!Alis Van Doorn

Alis VanDoorn

“Lily, hurry up!” called Lily’s mother, voice just this side of pleasant. Lily gave a final twirl to her hot pink troll hair point, pleased with her adorable troll dress, creatively shortened a bit, the matching tights, gave her pointed troll slipper boots a blissful smile, and her mind full of Sam’s reaction, sailed downstairs, all fetching troll glory.

“Lily! Now!” Her mother’s voice now on the other side of pleasant.

“Coming!” She troll pranced onto the front porch, stopped short. “Riley! Where’s your troll costume?”

An eight year old scary clown puffed out his chest and said “I’m too old for that. I’m a killer clown! I’ll scare everybody!”

“Well, where’s your candy pail?”

The small killer clown slapped his forehead and raced off to get it.

“Lily, I know you planned on meeting your friends after trick or treating, but you’ll need to stay with Riley afterwards, answer the door.” “Daddy’s working late, he won’t be home till about nine.”

“But why can’t you be here? It’s Halloween! It’s not fair!”

“I’ll be at the rectory, tomorrow’s All Saints. Just catch up with them after the bonfire.”

Realizing argument was futile, Lily sighed dramatically, the sigh of put upon 16 year olds everywhere.

Joining the neighborhood trick or treaters, a sixteen year old troll doll, a tiny killer clown, walked hand in hand.

Dark fell, and soon they were home, diving into candy, answering the door.

By nine thirty, still alone; Lily was getting anxious. She’d have to catch up with everyone by short-cutting through the old apple orchard to the abandoned school. Not her favorite way, spooky even on clear summer nights. If she didn’t leave now, Sam wouldn’t get to see her costume. Which was the whole point.

Lily looked at Riley, currently on a sugar high.

“Riley, I need to leave now, I’ll barely make it even cutting through the orchard. Promise you’ll stay here, not answer the door until Daddy gets home?”

Riley nodded, Lily turned off the porch lights, locked the door and took off running, never noticing the tiny killer clown following.

As Lily reached the orchard, the moonlight dimmed. “Come on, don’t be such a baby.” Lily told herself, trying to ignore an increasing dread. Lily picked up the pace, certain she heard branches moving.

Suddenly she stopped, hearing something behind her. To her left she saw a pair of glowing red eyes, shrieked, took off running.

Just then she heard a desperate little voice choke out “Lil, wait!”

Lily turned, a tiny, terrified killer clown running, sobbing into her arms. “Lil, there’s something back there, something bad. We gotta hide.”

Picking him up, Lily ran for the school, hoping to make it around the side to the open field and bonfire. But the bonfire was out, the field deserted. Frantically she looked for a hiding place. Suddenly she saw a pair of metal doors in the ground leading to the basement. Dropping Riley, Lily yanked hard to no avail. They were stuck.

“Lil.” Riley was pointing behind her, finger shaking.

Lily turned around slowly.

Something was there, impossible to see, equally impossible to miss the menace that seemed to shiver the air.

“Leave us alone! Whatever you are, you are not getting my brother or me! Now go, go back to the cemetery. I banish you in the name of all that’s holy, good and true, go now or face your due.”

Suddenly, the air was clear again, the moon came out from the clouds and Lily and Riley ran.

They took the long way.

#TIWC members, please vote here.

 

 

 

The Iron Writer Challenge #177, 2016 Autumn Equinox Challenge Championship Preliminary Round, Richard North Patterson Bracket

The Iron Writer Challenge #177

2016 Autumn Equinox Challenge Championship

Preliminary Round

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

 The Elements:

A kid playing a banjo to a dog
Bullying 
A limit
A life in danger

The Brackets:

richardnorthpatterson

Richard North Patterson Bracket

Mamie Pound, Geoff Gore, Phil Blaiklock, Alis Van Doorn

Deserted Life with StarsMamie Pound

Mamie Pound

The van was parked in front of the school, one wheel on the sidewalk. Early morning sunlight shone through the enormous glazed doughnut mounted on top.

“Ever wish you could just run away?” she asked, arranging cruellers.

“Nah,” he said, opened box of cream-filled.

“Never?” she watched him align styrofoam cups on the gymnasium table.

He shook his head. “Donna’s great.”

“I’m not talking about freakin’ Donna,” she hissed. He pushed his glasses up and looked at her. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

“You okay?”

“I’m bored out of my mind,” she said.

“Why don’t you change jobs?” he asked, straightening his shirt.

Why don’t you change jobs?” she mocked him with the voice she reserved for her sister.

He looked at her.

“My doctor gave me this pill, helps keep me calm.” He dug in his pocket, held up a tiny white pill. “With insurance, they’re three dollars each.”

She dug in her purse. The little bottle was half empty. She poured it into her coffee.

“Hey!” he looked around. A couple of sixth graders faced them from the bleachers.“Not cool.”

“Rob, I’ve got a joint in my purse. You’re gonna go out back and smoke it with me.”

The sixth grade teacher approached.

“Mrs. Whitman, may I make you a drink?” Nancy grinned.

Rob rolled his eyes.

“Golly, no. I’ve had two cappuccinos, already,” she smiled. “The talent show is starting, a banjo-dog act. So, we need to hurry.”

“Sure,” Nancy said, chugged the coffee.

The teacher walked away.

“Are you kidding me?” Rob said.

“Nobody said it was going to be like this, Rob.”

“It was in the catering order.”

“I don’t mean the cater, Rob. I mean life.”

“You’re acting crazy. Life is fine,” he said.

“Yeah, fine. If you like a field of neutered dreams. I want to float the Ganges, hang out in Katmandu, sleep in the desert.”

“Kind of risky,” he said.

“We are 45. Even if we live to be really old, it’s half over. We are coordinating powdered sugar and lemon-filled.”

“I need the insurance.”

“Then what, Rob? Prescription drugs, 25 more years of house payments and our teeth fall out?”

“I’m perfectly happy,” he said, crossed his arms.

“Really? I thought you always wanted to sleep in the Atacama, too?”

He smiled, stared out the gymnasium window.“You can see more stars there, than anywhere else on earth. But, it’s too late for all that.”

“So, you’re satisfied, a carcass of your former self, an empty cup, blowing across a school yard?” she said.

From nowhere, the teacher appeared. “Excuse me? We’re not paying you people to talk.” Her smile widened for emphasis.

Rob unloaded all the little milks on a table. Nancy waited in the van.

“Feel better?” he asked, slamming the passenger door.

“Soon enough.” She steered the van past school buses, onto the interstate, turned up the radio.

“I always thought the Clash should’ve made one more album.”

“Yeah,” he said.

The gigantic glazed doughnut disappeared south along the highway, right past their exit.

Smaller and smaller, until it seemed like just another day.

BuddyGeoff Gore

Geoff Gore

My name is Richard D’Angelo. Good folks call me Ricky, but the bad ones call me Dick and not because they like me. Most people don’t like me. That’s ok though, cos the bad people go away. I don’t know where they go exactly. They just go. Mom says people don’t like me cos I think different, on account of my disorder. She says I’ve got a special talent, but that doesn’t explain why so many people end up going away. Except Buddy, Buddy never goes away. He’s my friend. That’s why I called him Buddy. Buddy likes it when I play my banjo to him. Even my special tune, the one that makes the bullies disappear.

I remember the first time Buddy arrived at our house. Daddy had been drinking heavy and I remember him coming home late & getting all riled up ‘bout not being able to afford to feed us, let alone takin in stray dogs. There was hollering coming from downstairs. He and Mom was yelling at each other. Then there was a ‘whack’ and next thing I remember, was seeing Mom lying on the floor with her mouth bleeding and Dad standing over her reaching for one of his golf clubs. I never stopped to consider that maybe her life was in danger. Something just made me pick up my old banjo and start playing. Daddy went away after that.

*****

Look at him, that weird kid from that place on the hill. Sitting there playing that damn banjo like he owns the place. Him and that mange ridden mutt. Just sitting there. Jesus why can’t he shut that thing up? Must be the most unholy sound I’ve ever heard in my entire life. Local council’s got limits against that sort of stuff, right?

“Hey! Peckerhead!” I yell to him as I cross the road. I’ll shut that creepy little jerk up, scare him good so he never comes back round here again. Maybe I’ll smash that damn demonic noise maker over his crazy little head. But as I get closer he just sits and stares and keeps playing that infernal banjo. There’s something about that tune. Kinda hypnotic. All of a sudden I don’t really feel like bashing his little head in no more. I feel kinda drowsy, like I’m…floating. But underneath, it feels kinda creepy. And the whole time that crazy mutt of his has got its eyes focused, its stare never leaving mine. Then without warning the kid stops playing that tune. That tune. That’s when I really noticed the red glow in that dog’s eyes. It starts to growl. Guttural, like something…supernatural. I can’t stop staring into that red light right in its eyes. I get this cold feeling, like my insides have frozen. I’ve heard other people describe that feeling, like when a dying man is bleeding out. And there’s that light in that mutts eyes. And that tune. I try to scream. But nothing’s there anymore. It’s like…I’m gone.      

Disability

Philip Blaiklock

I changed to that crappy station. Some kid was playing a banjo to a dog, in grainy black and white. The only other interesting channel I got was home shopping.

I’d been wallowing on the couch for hours, and really needed a shower. But that whole standing up straight part hurt like hell.

I propped myself up enough to glance out the window. I hoped my rich ‘neighbor’ across the street was gone for the day. But no. His yellow Porsche was still parked on his 37th floor roof, reminding me how badly I’d screwed up my life.

I reached for the Oxycontin on my coffee table. Doctor’s limit was two a day. This was number two. At least I had that discipline.

A flash of white light blinded me and knocked me back. A tall man materialized. His bald head was silver, his suit was silver, his everything was silver. He pensively tapped his head, then pointed at me. “Your life is in danger.”

“Who … who are you?”

He took a drink from a flask in his other hand. He sniffed. “Your blanket smells terrible.”

“So what?”

“That’s the thing. You’re overweight but healthy. Your soul is dying.”

“I must be dreaming,” I said, reaching for the Oxy. He swatted me away. “No. This is the day you stop running.”

Running? Do you even know why I’m injured?”

“You had a forklift accident working at Costco. You backed into a tower of Act-II Popcorn, which fell on you.” He paused, took a long swig. “Nobody knows it was your fault.”

I sat up, feeling a stab of pain. “How did you kno—”

“I’m a silver man from the astral plane, you idiot. I’m reading your mind. Why was it your fault?”

“Because … ” I felt so guilty. “I knew my boss wanted to talk, and I saw him walking up while I was working the lift. I thought he had bad news. I panicked.”

Silver man took another swig. “Ahhh, yes.”  

“Are you talking to me, or the bottle? What’s in that anyway?”

“Mind your business.”

“Then maybe you should too.” Somehow, someway, I stood up to this bully. “Get the hell out of my apartment!” I cried, fighting excruciating pain.

Silver man smiled. “Better. Much better. For once in your life you’ve stood up for yourself. Now, go do something you love— wait a minute.” He looked away and tapped his forehead again. “Really?” A golden scroll materialized in his other hand. He opened it and read. “Damn. I have the wrong block.”

“What?”

He folded the scroll away. “Sorry dude. Ignore everything I said.” And with that, he vanished.

I looked around in a frenzy. I looked out the window. Silver man materialized in front my neighbor’s yellow Porsche.

I’d been standing the whole time. My back didn’t hurt as much. I thought a while. I grabbed my cane, and took the elevator down. For the first time in months, I stood outside. The sun hit my face, and I smiled.

I hailed a cab and asked for the nearest music store selling banjos.

Boxcar FortyAlis Van Doorn

Alis Van Doorn

Fortescue watched as the world flew by, afternoon fading into dusk, the clickity clack train sound soothing, unnerving. Pulling Finley close, he buried his face in Finley’s soft neck ruff. His stomach rumbled, he felt Finley give a shiver, whine softly

“How ‘bout supper, Finn, then the music of vagabonds and tramps?”

Finn barked his agreement to this excellent plan. Forty pulled out two sandwiches, carefully tore one in half, gave it to Finn, and they devoured their meager supper. Companionably splitting a bottle of water, they felt, if not full, much more cheerful.

Forty began to strum his banjo; he was learning, teaching himself and Finley howled along. Soon both runaways were fast asleep.

Suddenly the train screeched to a halt. Fortescue, waking, went on high alert, worried they had been discovered.

“Quiet Finn!”

Finn, who hadn’t uttered a peep, gave him an indignant look. They ooched themselves back into the far corner of the boxcar, which limited visibility, but seemed safer.

The train began to move, and as both relaxed, a large dark shadow appeared and their empty boxcar shuddered and vibrated. Finley and Fortescue froze.

“Who’s there?” a deep, melodious voice demanded, at odds with the harshness in its tone.

Fortescue swallowed, tried to deepen his voice, said “Just Boxcar Forty, Sir and his Vicious Canine Companion.” Finn growled menacingly.

“What’s this vicious animal called?” asked the still shadowy stranger.

“Finley William Smith, Sir.”

Fortescue thought he heard smothered laughter from the direction of the dark shadow.

“Quite a distinguished civilized name for such a vicious beast.”

“Well, two names are family names. And he’s only vicious with bad people. Otherwise he’s quite a gentleman.” Finley sniffed in agreement.

“And your name?”

Fortescue stiffened. “I told you. It’s Forty, Sir.

“So, Forty William Smith, then?” said the stranger gently.

“Fortescue William Smith.” mumbled Forty.

“Well, as it happens, my name is also William. Tell me how you and Finley happen to be riding this boxcar, all alone.”

Forty held Finn tight, and said in one rush of breath “We’re orphanage kids, no parents, they’re dead, I’m bullied at school cause of my name, I’m an orphan, my clothes are too small an’ I just reached my limit. Nobody wants us, we’ve run away to find luck and fortune.”

“I see.” said William quietly.

Forty, Finn looked into a weathered face, tempered by intelligence, kindness. Finn, satisfied, curled up close to Forty.

William said “You’ve been brave, courageous, but your lives are in danger. This is my railroad line, I’m riding this boxcar to catch a dangerous man, who’s been using this rail line, traveling between towns. There’s reason to believe he’ll be hopping this very car, next stop. Had you been here alone, you wouldn’t have left this boxcar alive.

Hours later, a murderer led away handcuffed, limping, yelling about a hound of hell, Finn and Forty sleeping, William woke them, asked “How’d you like to go home?’

Finley barked a “yes, please!” Forty looked up doubtfully.

“I’ve called the orphanage, talked to the director. You’re staying with me. Both of you. You’re home now”

Fortescue and Finley William Smith howled with happiness.

#TIWC members, please vote here.

The Iron Writer Challenge #176, 2016 Summer Open Challenge #13

The Iron Writer Challenge #176

2016 Summer Open Challenge #13

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

  Authors:

Malissa Greenwood, Michael Cottle, Charles Wesley Choc, Alis Van Doorn

 The Elements:

The Thumb Twiddler Machine
Frustration
Moss
The sound of drums in the distance

Thumbs Up

Charles Wesley Choc

The bicycle-riding generator worked; but, thirty minutes of pedaling captured only ten minute’s worth of battery recharge for his walkie. “…must be a better way,” grunting frustrated with this repetitious chore. Subsisting in life without electricity challenged Homer but he kept proving he could.

Living alone in the woods wasn’t lonely. He knew neighbors sustaining independence quite well. Paths crossed frequently, especially using handheld walkie-talkies, essential so no outsider could eavesdrop, especially Feds.

There was Everett and Judy who cultivated veggies inside homemade greenhouses. Vegetarians, they bragged “we need nuthin’ but water t’survive here.” Chatting with Homer, “yeah sure, I’ll get t’peeling off that moss. Sun needs in. I’ll do it wunna these days, but first, how ‘bout smokes, my place, got beer and cigs!”

Then there was Lionel. He spent social security checks on ammo for his tried and true 10-guage living on big birds and little critters daring to trespass on his tucked away sanctuary in these Idaho mountains. Lionel’s young bride, Poco, was Native American who played flutes and drums at night. He also agreed, “sure, for beer’n’stuff. Playin’ poker too? Sure, Poco’s drums’ll let us know if anyone gets close, ‘specially Feds.”

Besides other backwoods squatters playing cards, there was farmer Perkins, who made his living selling grapes, roots, exotic spices, even well-groomed hemp the guys liked smoking. Perk liked chatting with backwoods neighbors, was generous with less-than-marketable produce and granted access to exterior electrical outlets where the boys charged walkies. A widower, he also thus felt protected from outsiders. This regard was mutually precious and respected. Perkins took care of them; they took care of Perk.

There were quite a few other minds and bodies living eclectic lifestyles nearby, accessible only by rutted roads between two mountains. Living miles apart from each other, they honored social interactions that outsiders, like Perkins’ clients, found hard to grasp. Handheld walkies were used to alert each other when customers were driving up, or when crops were ready for sharing, or whenever they just wanted to share a smoke. Perkins also appreciated the heads up.

That night, Perkins gave Homer a box that arrived by mail.

Chuckling behind his back, everyone knew about how bad Homer’s bicycle-riding generator worked, as well as how much Homer cursed when his walkie’s juice ran dry. Still, Homer made it to the game mellowing out after his second cigarette plus card winnings of $20 from a pair of jacks. Patting the box, “it’s my new Thumb Twiddler.” He took a loaded deep breath, held it then exhaled smiling.

“…just plug it at Perks’,” Everett suggested holding his own breath then exhaling, “I do.”

“I wanna be self-reliant. Anyhow, this Twiddler’s gonna be cool.”

“Really? Tell me more.” Everett exhaled with a quirky smile.

“Working it with your thumbs, revolving chambers are activated which in turn creates electricity. I’m told you can charge talkies in minutes.”

“Riii-ght. Hey, what’s that?”

“Poco’s drum signals.”

“Oh no, the Feds are coming.”

“Damn!” said Homer. “They’re after my Thumb Twiddler. I gotta hide it! Now!”

Hard Pavement

Alis Van Doorn

Aimee’ turned the corner and stopped dead.

“Good God! Again? This has got to stop, you’ve gotta snap out of this. If not for me, for Mathilde’.”

Otis shifted, yawned, staring morosely at the image on the giant screen in his media room/man cave. Aimee’ hesitated, her face reflecting worry, concern, frustration.

“You lost one race. Doesn’t mean you’re not still the best. There’s a new season starting soon. Stop moping. Sitting here twiddling your thumbs, not enjoying a beautiful day with Mathilde and me is lazy, unproductive and selfish.”

Otis said calmly “I’m not twiddling my thumbs, I’m watching someone twiddle their thumbs via video. Twiddling my own thumbs requires effort. And it wasn’t just any race; it was THE race. Don’t forget I crashed a 200 million dollar Ferrari. My racing career is in the toilet. I’ve got no car for next season, even if Ferrari still wanted me. I’ll lose all my endorsements.” Otis concluded glumly.

“You were so lucky. Walking away without a scratch? OK, scratches, fractured ribs, and a badly sprained pride. You’ve everything to be grateful for, including a fabulous wife and a stunningly beautiful French bulldog.”

Otis’ lips twitched, but merely replied “I think you need to reverse the order of adjectives. There is no one who would describe Mathilde’ as ‘stunningly beautiful’; fabulous is a stretch. But you’re right. Our time left together is short, so let us, by all means, saunter out in this lovely, frigid, overcast December day. Which the fabulous Mathilde’ is clearly chomping at the bit to do.” Otis glanced meaningfully at Mathilde’, belly up, snoring sailor-like.

“The time you have left with us?” Aimee’s eyes glittered dangerously.

“A warning sign to wise men?” thought Otis, bravely, perhaps foolishly continuing “Merely that when I am but a shell, destitute, no profession, living on crumbs, I wouldn’t expect my insanely stylish French wife, nor our fabulous French snorehog to stay. In fact, I wouldn’t let you!” he concluded nobly.

At the look in Aimee’s eyes, Otis quickly said, “Yes, a walk, just the thing! Let’s go Matty!”

“You clearly have moss growing on your brain. You’re an imbecile. As if we would leave you, idiot. Mathilde’s been practicing street begging tricks, and well, I will simply not buy more shoes. Ever. So see, we’ll be fine!” Aimee’ sniffed.

Trudging towards the house after hours of fresh damp air, feeling oddly refreshed, happy, thunder rolling in, sounding like drums in the distance, Aimee’s phone rang. Aimee’ answered it, listened, then replied in the affirmative twice, hung up.

Otis waited, looking quizzical, finally saying “Ok, what was that about? Sounded all top secret agenty spy sort of stuff.”

“Wow, you got all that from a yes? That was just Ferrari asking if we got the new contract for the 2017 season they faxed over. And confirming you’d be at the factory early Monday to approve your new car and change any specs. Oh and Mercedes called, wanting to know if you were interested in driving for them in 2017. Did I forget to tell you that earlier? “asked Aimee’ with an utterly innocent grin.

Mackenzie and the Machines

Malissa Greenwood

Mackenzie was gasping for breath by the time she finally stopped and leaned against a tree. Her heart was pounding her chest, sweat dripping down her back. She wasn’t sure how much farther she could run, but she knew she had to try. It was bad enough to have been in that monstrous lab for as long as she was, she couldn’t imagine going back. What horrible experiments would they perform next?

Don’t think about it, just move. With a quick glace behind her, she pushed off the rough bark and continued running, staying close to the creek but careful to avoid the mossy rocks near the water’s edge. Mackenzie knew they had dogs; big, aggressive dogs that would inevitable be used to hunt her. She hoped like hell that the creek would help to mask her scent.

She had lost track of time, but she knew it had to have been months that she’d been trapped in the lab. They kept her like a rat in a cage, isolated and alone. She knew there were others in there. She could hear their screams, she could smell their burning flesh. But she was never allowed to see or talk to them. Instead she was left in a secluded cell to question why this had happened. Why had they chosen her? She had no memory of how she came to be there. Had they wiped her memory clean or had she been created there, an adult with no childhood to remember?

Day after day they hooked her up to machines, electrodes connected to her brain tracking.. Who knows what. The mildest one had been the thumb twiddling machine. She would be forced to sit for hours in a stiff metal chair twiddling her thumbs, listening to the droning hum the machine produced. At first the frustration was maddening. “What is the point of this?!” she had screamed, and received a blow to the head in response. But in time, frustration turned to a strange sort of comfort. At least this machine didn’t hurt her; at least if she sat silently twiddling her thumbs she wouldn’t be enduring harsher, more painful experiments.

Mackenzie shook her head and tried to clear the images from her mind. She was free; she would find someone and she would get help. She had to. She stopped again, bending at the waist hands on her knees. She struggled to breathe in the cool, fresh air. In the distance she thought she heard shouts. They’re coming. Have to keep moving.

She reached for a tree limb and began navigating across the creek when suddenly she slipped on a patch of slimy moss. Her head made a cracking sound, stars filled her vision as she landed hard on a rock. She lay there in the creek, feeling the water flow around her, knowing she should move. She heard drums in the distance, beating to the rhythm of her heart and slowly closing in on her.

Was that her mother’s face appearing in front of her? Or an angel? Did she have a mother? Or was she a creation, with no mother to envision?

Mr. Fletcher’s Assignment

Michael Cottle

“Where does moss grow son?” Mr. Fletcher asked as he placed his bongos on his cluttered desk.

George didn’t follow. There was a lot he could learn from Mr. Fletcher, but sometimes the old man had curious angles. Mr. Fletcher grabbed him by the shoulder and walked him down the hall.

“On trees Mr. Fletcher?” George returned.

“Yeah, but which side son?” Mr. Fletcher asked.

“The North sir” George answered.

“You observe that, or was you told that?” Mr. Fletcher asked.

“That’s what I’ve heard” George said.

“Moss grows all over the trees!” Mr. Fletcher shouted at his young assistant. “North! South! Everywhere! Have you even been in the woods son? Ever?”

“No sir, not really” George said.

“My God, son. You need to get out there and see the world. You’ve been here too long, and mostly just playing with your thumbs like a dang fool!”

“Well, sir, there are month end reports and inventory adjustments” George insisted.

“Nonsense!” Mr. Fletcher shot back. “Listen here, I’m going to do you a favor. Do you understand son?”

“A favor? For me?” George was a little stunned.

Mr. Fletcher let go a belly laugh.

“That’s right. I like you. You remind me of my own son- that is if I had one. I’m sure he’d be a thumb-twiddler like you.” Mr. Fletcher continued speaking while he wheeled in a cart looking contraption into George’s office space. It had two electric motors with knobbed pulleys that lined up in opposition to each other.

“I don’t understand sir. What’s that?” George was as puzzled as a monkey gazing in a mirror.

“You’ll see” Mr. Fletcher said. “Here plug this in.”

George plugged the cord into the outlet and smoke started pouring out of the machine.

“Oh crap!” Mr. Fletcher gulped with a wee-bit of frustration. “Unplug it! Unplug it now!”

George yanked the cord from the wall socket, and soon, the smoke began to dissipate. “What happened?” George asked.

Mr. Fletcher grabbed his screwdriver from his pocket and begin to make some adjustments while assessing the damage. “Oh, nothing son. The hot wire just got a little too close to the ground. Nothing of concern.”

George peered over Mr. Fletcher’s shoulder, but he had no idea what he was looking at.

“That ought a do it” Mr. Fletcher assured his assistant. “Plug it back in, and let’s see what it’ll do.”

George plugged it back in, and the two motors begin to turn. The knobs on the pulleys rotated together in unison. “Mr. Fletcher, what is it?” George asked.

“Automation!” Mr. Fletcher said with thunder. “I want you to take the week off son, but don’t go home. I want you to see the world! Go for a walk in the woods. Go see where the damn moss actually grows! When you get back next week, you can unplug it and go back to your twiddling.”

“Yes sir!”

When George left his office, he left there smiling, and he could still hear the crazy old man banging on bongos. The beat was in perfect time with the thumb-twiddling machine and George’s last four years of much of the same.  

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