The Iron Writer Challenge #193 – 2017 Spring Equinox Tournament Preliminary Round

The Iron Writer Challenge #193

2017 Spring Equinox Tournament

Preliminary Round

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Authors:

Danielle Lee Zwissler, Richard Russell, Keith Badowski, Malissa Greenwood,

Dani J. Caile, Michael Cottle, Tina Biscuit, Vance Rowe, E. Chris Garrison,

Josh Flores, David Jobe, Steven L. Bergeron, Amy Kasim, Bethany Totten,

Geoff Gore, Maureen Larter, Emma Crowley, Mamie Pound, Matt Henderson

Note: This year, the tournament submissions will be blind, hence the author’s name will not be shown until after a champion has been chosen.

The Elements:

A Lady in a clothes dryer

Menstrual Cramps

A Hairbrush without bristles

A Wooden Hanger

Put Out to Dry

Maureen Larter

Maria stood in front of her wardrobe and gazed at the contents. Lifting her arm limply she moved the wooden hangers from one side to the other, looking at each dress as she did so.

Nothing appealed.

She stopped again and stared into space. How could she have ever imagined she would have ended up in this weird situation?

She silently shook her head.

She had been arrested, then freed on bail and now she needed to ready herself for the trial. It was all surreal – beyond belief.

To make matters worse, she couldn’t remember that night. Found unconscious, covered in blood and stuffed into the local laundry’s clothes drier was bad enough, but the body of her husband, stabbed to death on the floor of the same laundry was worse.

She sighed as she once more tried to make a decision on her appearance. As she reached for the little black dress that everyone said was always a correct fashion statement, she felt the cramp. She rubbed her stomach as she realized, once more, she would get her monthlies. Not pregnant! She had so hoped to be, but now Ed was dead, there would be no hope of a reminder of her marriage to him.

She picked out the dress and turned to place it on the bed, catching a glimpse of her appearance in the dressing-table mirror.

Her eyes were sad and red, her face deep with wrinkles from the worry, and her hair looked like she’d brushed it with a hairbrush with no bristles. She sank down on the rumpled bedspread and put her head in her hands. How was she going to get through today – the next month – in fact, the rest of her life?

She shuddered.

The horror of the crime overwhelmed her.

The shame she felt was daunting.

After several minutes, she stood and took a deep breath. She ran her fingers through her spiky hair, wiped away the tears that had slipped down her cheeks without her realizing it, and picked up the dress to get ready.

She had to face the trial whatever the outcome, but she knew her brother would be in prison for a very long time.

Laundry and Lattes

Malissa Greenwood

Dani pulled into a parking spot along Elm and quickly checked her reflection. She dug through the glovebox, her hand finally grasping the paddle of her brush. She pulled it out and found there were no bristles left on the old piece of plastic.

“Piece of shit.” She muttered and threw it on the floor, opting instead to pull her messy hair into a clip.

She rubbed on some chap stick, sighed at the new reflection and lifted the visor before exiting her unmarked sedan.

It had been a long, interesting morning. Dani had been called in to investigate a murder scene at a south side laundromat. A woman had been found stuffed into a dryer, brutally beaten beforehand.

The scene was gruesome. Signs of an obvious struggle. Wooden hangers scattered around a pool of blood and black stilettos.

Dani shook the images out of her head as she stopped on her way up the steps and bent down, briefly struck by the usual, uncomfortable pangs of PMS. She didn’t want coffee – she wanted to be home, laying down with an ice pack on her abdomen and a double scoop of Ben and Jerry’s.

But instead she was walking up the steps towards the small coffee shop to meet her on-again off-again boyfriend, Rick. He’d texted her with an urgent request to meet him and when she tried to brush him off he only became more insistent.

She knew what this would be about and she was certain it could have been handled over the phone. They’d been trying to be ‘on-again’ for a while now, but they both knew it wasn’t working. And they both knew it was her fault.

He was sitting by the far window looking at his phone, but he put it away when he saw her approach.

“Hey.” It was more of a sigh than a greeting. “I got you a latte.”

“Thanks.” She flashed him an exhausted smile, and took the warm cup.

“So… How are you? I haven’t been able to catch you alone for a while.”

“Yeah, I know. Just a string of rough cases. We got a new one this morning, too. Jane Doe…” she trailed off – she could tell he was tired of her excuses.

“Listen Dani… There’s someone else.”

“Cutting right to the chase, huh? Well I can’t say I’m surprised.”

“I’m sorry. I really wanted things to work this time. But I’m just not cut out for your lifestyle. It’s too much. I’m not…”

“Yeah.” She cut him off; He wasn’t the only one tired of excuses. “Who is she?”

He hesitated, then said “Her name is Kim. You don’t know her. She’s not a cop. She’s… boring. And normal. And… I just think that’s what I need right now.”

“Yeah… I get it, Rick.” She did get it. Sometimes she wished her life was a little more boring.

He pulled out his phone and frowned. “Look I gotta go. I’m sorry.”

“Off to meet Kim, now that you’re a free man?” she tried smiling, hoping it came off more friendly than bitchy.

He nodded. “Yeah. We’re gonna go do laundry.”

Warmth

Josh Flores

“Push out now Judith!”

Judy found herself again in this awkward situation.  Her curse of small stature and slight build gave her no end to troubles. Her eighty pound, four foot four inch body fit nice and comfy in the industrial-size, front-loaded, dual-rotation, three-speed, apartment-complex laundromat clothes-dryer. A woman of routine, she’d do her washing and drying on Sunday after midnight.  It helped relieve some of the embarrassment of having to wrestle with the big machines. This way, it wasn’t in front of her neighbors.

She swore the dryer was out to get her.  It never failed to keep one of her intimate articles way in the back of its drum, forcing her to climb in to retrieve it. No doubt about it, the machine had some reason for doing this regularly.  Getting in was easy enough: pull a chair over, stand on it, and crawl inside the gaping mouth waiting to swallow her.  Steamy, moist air would greet her, envelope her in welcomed warmth. Her body would curl up as she fought to control the spin of the cylinder her every move created.

The churning brought to mind menstrual cramps.  How her womb use to churn to and fro, twist and spin, causing huge pains.  She hadn’t had the experience in the few months since conceiving. “Guess that’s one good thing about it.”  Judy groped in the dusk, until her hand found the panty and bra victims. In her blouse they went for safe-keeping. Now came the hard part: getting out.

After weeks of struggling, Judy thought long and came up with a plan. She came prepared this time with a pouch tied to her waist. Judith opened the pouch and pulled out a wooden clothes hanger with a wire neck and a wooden brush with its bristles removed. She returned the brush – that was for the final phase of escape. She looked up to find the air holes in the drum. Judy worked with practiced ease as she slipped the wire neck of the hanger through one hole and out the one directly behind it. With small hands made strong by years of compensating for her lack of build, Judy grabbed the hanger turned herself around slowly.  She then removed the hanger, found another pair of holes a few inches away and repeated the anchoring. Using the hanger as support she inched herself towards the opening.

Reaching the doorway, Judith pulled out the bristleless brush. She rammed the handle in between the drum and right side of the opening to stabilize and to create another hand grip.  With one hand gripping the wood of the hanger and the other on the brush she gathered her strength.  “Push out now Judith!” With one mighty pull of her arms she swung her legs out the door and let herself dangle for a moment – then she released her grip, letting herself land on the chair.

Judy turned to close the dryer. The hushed rush of air escaping, to her mind’s ear, sounded like a resigned sigh.

PMS (Potential Murder Suspect)

Geoff Gore

Detective O’Malley wearily pushed open the door to the laundromat. Between the Midtown homicide and the divorce with his ex, he hadn’t slept much the past three days. Both had been messy. As for the murder, it must’ve been one hell of a frenzied attack, the victim a male in his mid-forties, was almost unrecognisable. There was blood all over the apartment, but not a shred of evidence of the attacker. No prints, no stray hair, no sign of forced entry. Nothing. It was as if whoever’d done this had been through that apartment with a fine tooth comb, painstakingly scrubbing away any trace they’d been there. And yet, so much blood everywhere.  Now on top of it all his ex-wife was threatening to bleed him dry. Hence here he was, at the end of the fourth day of a homicide enquiry, reduced to doing his own laundry at a cheap laundromat on the lower side of town.

He sat in front of one of the big machines and saw he wasn’t alone. A woman leaned into one of the oversized dryers retrieving her laundry. A copy of the morning’s newspaper lay on the seat next to her. The front page headline screamed MURDER! The article critical that Police had no leads in a case O’Malley was all too familiar with.

The woman emerged from the dryer. She looked up, and jumped, startled when she saw O’Malley standing there in his uniform.

“Sorry Ma’am. I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

“You should be more careful,” she snapped, “creeping up on people like that.”

“Sorry Ma’am, I’m just here for my laundry.”

“Sorry,” she replied, “I didn’t mean to snap, “It’s just…” she placed a hand lightly on her abdomen. “You know…some months the cramps that make me a little…tetchy.”

“Tetchy?” He glanced at the open newspaper on the seat between them. “I understand. You reading about the case?” “No.” She said curtly. She retrieved the newspaper, folded it and tucked it on top of her basket of clothes. “Though the no good sonofabitch probably deserved it.” She turned, leaning all the way into the dryer to retrieve something else.

“Let me help.”

“I can manage.” She emerged holding a white men’s shirt.

He grabbed a wooden hangar from the rack. “At least let me help you hang it up.”

“I said, I’m FINE!” She barked.

“Okay,” he held up his hands.

As she hung the shirt over the hangar he couldn’t help noticing a small red blemish which hadn’t quite washed out from the fabric and the faint stain beneath her fingernails.

She blushed and hurried to pack the remainder of her things into the basket. On top she placed an old hair brush, so worn that all the bristles had fallen out, and headed for the door.

“Not so fast, Ma’am,” said a voice behind her.

She stopped and turned.

Detective O’Malley held out a lonely sock that had fallen to the floor. “There’s always one,” he said.

Down in Little India, Southall, London

Dani J. Caile

“Mrs Hatherwaite! What in hell’s name are you doing?” said Darshit, walking into his laundromat to see legs dangling from his largest clothes dryer. He knew they were hers from the bulging blue varicose veins. And no one else did their laundry at this time of night, either.

“I’m keeping warm, it’s lovely and cosy in here,” giggled Mrs Hatherwaite.

“Get out of there this insta… oh my!” The sight froze his blood. Thankfully, not much light could penetrate into the contraption, but from what he saw in the second before he closed his eyes, he could only describe her as completely naked. “Mrs Hatherwaite, why are you not wearing anything?”

“Well, the sign does say ‘When finished washing, please remove all clothes’,” laughed Mrs Hatherwaite.

With some brief glimpses, he saw she was drinking from a wine bottle.

“Mrs Hatherwaite! Not only are you naked in one of my clothes dryers, but you are also drinking!”

“Oh, this? Drinking? It’s only my third! Fancy some?” She offered the bottle but Darshit refused.

“Mrs Hatherwaite, you can’t get… ‘drunk naked’ in one of my clothes dryers!” What was he to do?

“I’ve got my menstrual cramps, red wine always helps… hey, ‘Darshit’! Come on in, I’ll take you for a spin,” laughed Mrs Hatherwaite. She reached out and took his collar, pulling him closer.

“Mrs Hatherwaite! Please!” Fighting back, his right hand found something on the top of the machine and he brought it down to use against the insane woman. It was a hairbrush… without bristles. He made a mental note to take some time out of his busy schedule to clean the place up a little. An unexpected kick made him drop the useless item and he blindly searched for something else as he struggled on. His hand found a wooden hanger.

“Come on, ‘Darshit’, take a spin with me!” She was strong for her age and Darshit couldn’t resist for much longer. In a momentary flash of inspiration, he put the wooden hanger into the back of his coat, thus stopping her from taking his shoulders in. She persisted for a few more minutes, but he’d won the battle and she let go. “Oh, you’re no fun!”

At that moment, Darshit’s wife walked in. As usual, her phone was clasped to her ear while she rabbited on with her sister, so she didn’t notice him pushing Mrs Hatherwaite’s blue veined legs into the dryer and closing the door.

“Hello dear,” said Darshit, trying to look ‘normal’. His wife put her phone down for a second. Before she spoke, a noise came from the dryer.

“You spin me right round, baby right round…”

“What is that?” asked Darshit’s wife.

“Err, nothing, dear. Just the radio… in the back room,” said Darshit, resting his elbow on the dryer’s door.

“Oh. Well, don’t hang around here all night, I want you back home in ten minutes,” she ordered, leaving the way she came, with her phone to her ear.

Darshit knew it would be one crazy ten minutes.

Snipe Hunting

David Jobe

“It’s obvious. Isn’t it? Double homicide involving a vampire.”

“Hold on. What?” Officer Jimmy Timms stopped tapping a wooden hanger that he had been playing with. “Vampire?”

“What do you see sticking out of the man’s chest, Jimmy?”

Jimmy knelt down beside the corpse. “All I see is a hair brush that someone has plucked out all the bristles.”

Officer Monty Lanton chuckled. “Way to see the forest for the trees, Jimmy. It’s a stake. You know, wooden spike through the heart? Hand-made. Obviously. Look at his pants. Tweed. Sooo last century.”

“Vampire? You get that a lot around here.” Jimmy crossed his arms across his chest. He glanced around at the rest of the team.

They looked back at him with silent and serious faces.

Lanton shrugged. “It doesn’t happen that often, no. I think I’ve seen maybe two, three, times since I started the late shift.” He looked to the coroner, Carrie-Anne who held up three fingers. “Three. Now, sure. Could be this is just a case of mistaken identity? Maybe. But with things like these, you have to be careful.”

Jimmy shook his head. “Not buying it. You’re messing with me.”

Lanton frowned. “Are you suggesting we staged a murder scene?”

Jimmy looked to each, eyes narrowing. “Fine. I’ll play along. What do we do next? Call Van Helsing?”

“That kind of stuff will get you killed, Jimmy. You can’t believe all the stuff you see on television, man. The first step is to have Carrie-Anne get the deceased male into the van and down to the morgue. Best to just burn him tonight to be safe. It will mean we spend all night tomorrow filing paperwork for the screw-up, but we can’t just risk him coming back. Plus, there is the woman to contend with. Could be she might turn soon. Problem is she probably has family. Can’t just burn her.”

“Wait. Wait! This is crazy! Why would you think she’d turn? She not even bitten.”

“Not on the neck, Jimmy. Again. Television. Do you see the inside of her thigh? The leg not hanging out of the dryer?”

Jimmy leaned in to expect the body of the woman stuffed in an industrial clothes dryer. “I thought. Well, you know.” He looked at Carrie-Anne and blushed.

“That it’s her time of the month? She died of cramps? You’ve never had a live-in girlfriend, have you, Jimmy? That’s way too much blood for that. Go with Carrie-Anne to get the gurney.”

“Fine.”

After Jimmy had moved out of earshot, Lanton leaned down near the opening of the dryer. “You ready?”

Elanor Millie opened her eyes and offered a smile that revealed fake fangs. “You swap out his gun?”

“Isn’t my first time, Elanor.” Lanton cast a glance over his shoulder. “It’s a prop. Tasers drained and the night-stick is gorilla glued in its holster. Don’t trip over Grimm. He’s sensitive.”

On the ground, the staked man muttered profanities.

“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this,” she said. “Next time, just dinner and a movie.”

“Your fault for asking what I do for fun.”

Two Loads Washin’

Michael Cottle

I’ve lived a long time- almost 84 years now. I’ve seen many things in those years. I’ve seen beautiful things. I’ve seen sad things. And, I’ve seen folks do downright crazy things. But never anything like I did in 94’.

It was Saturday, the 19th of February, and I was headed to the laundromat. I could’ve just bought a washer, but truth is I liked the company. You see, my wife passed in the fall of 93’, and sometimes I needed to get out of the house.

Now most folks at the laundromat weren’t there to do no socializing. I understood this, but while their clothes were a washing, most of ‘em didn’t mind passing the time with an old fool like me.

This Saturday morning was not good visiting for I hadn’t seen a soul all morning. My two loads were almost dry and I had my wooden hangers out on the folding table just about ready to go. That’s when Miss Mary showed up.

You might think it odd, but this ain’t who I felt like socializing with. That woman hated me since the time she first laid eyes on me. Now I hadn’t done a thing in the world to the crazy ole bitty.

Anyways, she was slinging clothes and washing powders around like she was too good to wash clothes or something. I think she was born with the menstrual cramps, but Lord knows I didn’t do nothing to her I tell you. Now listen awhile and I might tell you again.

She messed around and got a fancy looking blouse hung in the coin slot of the washing machine. I heard the biggest ruckus that you could imagine as she started saying things that would make an oil field worker blush!

The next thing I know, she gave that blouse a snatch and buttons went flying. She fell backwards over a hamper of her own dirty clothes and straight into the dryer basket behind her! There was nothing but high heels sticking out of that machine.

Being a gentleman and all, there was nothing for me to do, but go help the crazy lady out of that thing. I asked her if she wanted permanent press or high cotton as I gave her my hand. I thought I was fixing to get eaten alive! First look, there was a bit of anger, and then she started laughing a little. But before it was over and by the time she was out, she started to cry. My heart just melted. You see, like me, she had just lost her husband too. In no time at all, we were in that laundromat laughing like kids. Turns out, she wasn’t near crazy as I thought she was.

You see, I’ve seen some downright crazy things in my time. But I’ll never forget how I met my second and last wife. We got our own washer and dryer these days. I don’t know how much more time we got left, but I’ll tell you one thing. If I hadn’t met Miss Mary, I’d be a hairbrush without the bristles.

Claustrophobic Cloud Nine

Emma Crowley

The bristles of the brush tinkled against the steel lining of the clothes dryer as she brushed them off of her stomach, the distorted handle of the now toothless brush clutched tightly in her fist. She sighs as she turns the brush over between her fingers, watching the sharp edges of the plastic draw thin white lines against her skin. The ridges of the machines tumbler shove back against her spine, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the deep throbbing in her abdomen, so she ignores it.

“Did you get it yet?” A voice floats into the laundry room, tossed back and forth by the noise of the vibrations of the washing machine hard at work to the right of the dryer in which the girl had found refuge. She twists her neck painfully to look down at the wooden hanger wedged between the rotating tumbler and the metal at the back of the machine, speckled with soapy residue. If she were to actually try, she would be able to free the hanger in a minute or so, but that would mean that she would have to leave the dryer.

“Not yet,” she calls back, wincing slightly as the volume of her shout echoes loudly around the interior of the dryer. “It really seems to be stuck in there.”

She had no way of explaining it, but somehow contorting her body into the claustrophobic tumbler of the dryer calmed the persistent pain in her abdomen. It worked, that’s all that mattered.

“Well hurry up,” the voice replies, exasperated. The girl rolls her eyes, pressing the palms of both hands against her lower stomach. Something about the dryer, knees scrunched up to her chest, made her feel safe, almost like returning to the womb. Ironic, she chuckles into the darkness of the machine, when her own womb was the reason for her cramming herself into such a tiny space.

Maybe her uterus had fallen asleep in the relaxing calm of the dryer, postponing its scheduled torture for a quick nap. That was something the girl could understand, her own eyes struggled to stay open. Maybe for a moment, she and her body could work as one to reach the dimensions of rest.

“What are you even doing?” The girl’s eyes snap open as a figure storms into the laundry room, a basket of dirty clothes tucked under one arm. The figure wears a scowl across her face as she glares down at the figure curled in the machine. “Didn’t you hear me say I had laundry to do? Go lounge in your own bed.”

Almost. The girl had almost found a moment of peace. She lets out a disappointed sigh as she yanks the wooden hanger roughly out of it’s trap, tossing it out onto the laundry room floor. The sound of wood against tile almost sounded like the shattering of paradise as the girl wanders from the room, footsteps in sync with the painful throbbing now jumping back to life in her abdomen.Now, when the machine turns on, now filled with wet jeans, it seems to call to her. Next time…next time.

Ghostly Memories

Bethany Totten

The room seemed frozen in time.  The bed was neatly made; the various trinkets were still on the dresser.  Even the house coat elegantly draped over the chair was untouched by time.

Although the room was empty, a young woman glided in, looking around the room in sadness.  It seemed like only yesterday that the blonde haired female was in the room preparing to meet her secret lover. They had planned to run away and elope but, well, things hadn’t quite worked out.

She couldn’t recall very much from that night.  She had been applying her makeup when she suddenly had a nasty coughing spell.  The maid had heard her and the last thing the young women remembered was fainting.  She heard voices but could never see who was talking.  It was an experience unlike any she had ever had before. She had then awoken in her room, alone and unaware of the time or day.  She had been walking around the house for what seemed like days, but no one seemed to be home.  It was very odd. A dress hung from the hanger on the door like a ghost, the fabric swaying in the gentle breeze from the open window.  The young maiden walked over and ran her fingers over the fabric.  It was as soft as she remembered.

She suddenly heard the familiar sound of her father’s Sun Touring pulling up to the front of the house.  She eagerly ran down the stairs to the front to greet her family, descending the marble stairs to the foyer.  Her family entered.

“Mother!” the young lady exclaimed.  “Father!  Where on earth did you go?  I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

Her parents silently walked past her.  The young woman was confused.

“The house seems so quiet with her gone,” her mother mused to seemingly no one.

The elderly woman’s husband hugged her.  “I know, my dear,” he replied.  “At least she didn’t suffer.”

“But Father, I’m right here!” the lady replied.  She reached out to touch her mother’s arm.  The matron shuddered.

“Oh, Walt, it still feels like my beloved Margot’s still here!” she wailed.  “Why did that damn tuberculosis have to take her?  Why?”

Margot’s mother broke down as she stared at her parents in confusion.  Tuberculosis?  What was she talking about?  She didn’t have that.  And she most certainly wasn’t dead.

She followed her parents to their room, calling after them, begging them to answer her.

In anger, she grabbed a wooden hanger from the back of the door and threw it against the wall.  “I’m right here!” she exclaimed,

Her parents screamed as the hanger splintered against the wall.

“Dear God!  It’s a poltergeist!” her mother exclaimed and fainted.

Margot stood in shock.  It was true.  They really couldn’t see her.  She sank to her knees, her worst fears realized.  She was a ghost.  And she was trapped here, never to see her true love again.

A Fish Out of Water

Richard Russell

We pulled up to the laundromat and sat in the car for a few moments while my wife, Melissa, went over the instructions again.  “… And don’t put anything red in the wash with anything white.  Keep colors separate.”

Nodding, I smiled, took the three page instructions, unloaded six baskets of laundry onto the sidewalk, and kissed Melissa goodbye.

She smiled, “I’ll be back as soon as the dentist is through, Love!”

“Bye, Sweetie.  Have a nice … dental … visit.”

Melissa drove away; I picked up a basket and went inside.

The place was deserted.  Feeling like a fish out of water — an interloper in someone else’s world  — I   picked a washer and dryer set near the coffee machine, I intended to fully avail myself of that amenity before doing anything else.

After getting a load of whites into the washer and setting the first wash cycle in motion, I sipped my coffee and remembered that five more baskets of laundry sat out on the sidewalk.  With some sense of urgency, I headed for the door.  About to go out, I noticed a pair of female legs hanging out of a dryer.

Being the good Samaritan, I approached gingerly to see if I could help in any way. “Um, are you all right?” I queried.

“Do I look all right?” she snapped, and went back to moaning.

“Is there anything I can do?”  I asked sheepishly.

Desperately, the woman asserted, “Yes! Yes! Press your hand into the small of my back and push hard!”

Overcoming my conservative upbringing, I attempted to comply, but it proved difficult to apply enough pressure to her specifications with her in the dryer and me outside.  I moved halfway inside the dryer, and before I knew it, I was lying in the dryer with her, pressing my palm into the small of her back with considerable pressure.

She moaned in satisfaction and relief as she explained normally she would apply a heating pad to relieve her menstrual cramps, but the best she could come up with here was climbing into the hot dryer.

Just then, Melissa’s face showed up outside the dryer. “Howard!?”

I jumped.”

“Melissa!?  I’m … uh … this is … uh …”

“Jenny.”

“Jenny! She’s … uh … and …”

Melissa frowned.  “Howard … would you bring in the rest of the laundry, please … now.”

With great difficulty, I slithered obediently out of the dryer.

Shaking her head, Melissa just starred at me in disbelief as I wandered off.”

Then she turned her attention to the woman in the dryer.  Handing her some extra-strength ibuprofen, the two were soon commiserating about mysterious women’s things … and men … in general.

“…And I told him, ‘Throw that dang hairbrush away; it hasn’t any bristles left anyway!’”

and  “ …I’ve told him at least a dozen times, ‘Don’t hang that coat on a wire hanger. Use the wooden one!’”

“Men!”

“Yeah, from a whole different planet.”

“Yeah.”

I sipped my warm coffee and kept quiet over by the washer.

Time Won’t Always Heal

Amy Kasim

“Ooh Esi you need to see this! It would blow you up!” Macbeth rushed into his sister’s room with the Native Heirloom, their town’s local newspaper, in his hand.

“What is it this time?” Esi snapped at her sister, rushing past him to her wardrobe whiles smoothening her hair with a hairbrush without bristles. “I hope it is not one of those funny stories you bring to me every morning to read about menstrual cramps or women in clothe dryers? I am not in the mood for any of that today.”

Macbeth rolled her eyes at his sister.  “What has gotten into your pants this morning to make you all grumpy?”

“I am not grumpy. It is just that I can’t seem to find my yellow dress.”

“The flowery one?” Macbeth asked, looking around the room

“Yes; that very one! I need it for my presentation this morning and I am already running late!”

“Esi Appiah, do you ever take your time to look for things? The dress is hanging right behind you”

“Where?” Esi turned quickly to look in her brother’s direction. Macbeth held the dress in one hand and a wooden hanger in the other with a smug look on his face.

Esi ignored his looks and snatched the dress. “So, what were you saying about the Heirloom? She asked, whiles checking out herself in the mirror.

“Oh that; it is just an article by your enemy journalist, Kofi Quayson about…”

“Let me see it!” Esi snatched the newspaper and sat to read; her eyebrows creasing as she read line after line, muttering to herself. Macbeth stood still, watching his sister in awe. With the way Esi disliked the guy, it was obvious they had a bone to pick.

“Bloody hell!” she yelled.

“No curse words allowed in this house” Macbeth chided his sister

“Who cares about curse words when that chauvinist with absolutely no brains is here spewing rubbish? A woman leaves her abusive marriage because she cannot take it anymore and he says it’s her fault? She was being abused because she refused to be submissive? Unbelievable! Ooh so is it because no one has exposed his evil deeds that he has the guts to say this kind of nonsense?”

“Chauvinist with no brains? Why are you like this Esi? Unless there is more to this outburst than you are letting on, which is obvious, I think this is just an article.”

“Just an article you say? Why are people always quick to come to the aid of the abuser and never the abused? Why have we allowed our culture render us ignorant? I will be damned to let this issue die.”

Esi snatched her car keys from the table

“Don’t you have a presentation to get to? Where are you going Esi?” Macbeth asked, stunned at his sister’s behaviour.

“To do something I should have done a long time ago.”

Plight of the Homeless

Vance Rowe

A reporter was doing an exposé on the homeless people. While interviewing some of the indigent camped under a highway overpass, he noticed an older woman sitting in a clothes dryer. He made a beeline over to her and asked, “What are you doing in there, ma’am?”

“Mind your own beeswax,” she replied angrily.

“Can I talk with you for a few minutes please?”

“Go away, Copper. I ain’t see’d nothin’.’”

“Copper? I am a reporter writing an article about homeless people.”

“So, what’s that got to do with me? I ain’t homeless, Copper.”

“You aren’t? Then where do you live?”

“Right here, Dummy.”

“Oh, this one is priceless,” he thought to himself.

He turned on his little recorder and held it close to the dryer door.

She noticed it and suddenly got frightened and asked, “What is that?”

“It is a recording device so I can write about our conversation in the newspaper.”

“Since when do coppers write newspaper stories?”

Ma’am, I am not a policeman. Will you please come out of there so I can talk with you? I will pay you ten dollars for your time.”

“All right Copper but you will have to wait until they go away.”

“They? They who?”

“My menstrual cramps?”

“Excuse me?” the surprised reporter asked.

“Why? Did you just fart or something?”

“No, Ma’am. What about menstrual cramps?”

“The dryer is the only thing that helps them.”

“Right. Silly me,” the reporter said, slowly shaking his head. He figured the woman to be well into her sixties and she shouldn’t be having menstrual cramps.

A couple of minutes later she climbed out of the dryer and sat down on the ground. Her salt and pepper colored hair was dirty and matted. She had two different color wool socks on her feet. A torn dress covered by a threadbare housecoat. Her B.O. tested his gag reflexes.

“Can we talk for a couple of minutes?”

“We been talking, Copper,” she replied.

“Right. Sorry.”

He handed the woman a ten dollar bill. She licked it and stuck it on her forehead.

“Hand me my mirror there, will ya?” she asked as she pointed to a wooden hangar on the ground. She held it up by the hook and peered through it as if it really is a mirror. She then picked up a hair brush that had no bristles and combed her hair with it.

“Why are you doing that?”

“I’m gettin’ all gussied up for my picture. Ain’t you holding a camera?”

“No, ma’am. It’s a record…oh never mind.”

Suddenly she covered her abdomen and said, “Oh no.”

Then she got up and climbed back into the dryer.

“Menstrual cramps?”

“Of course. Why else would I be in a dryer, Copper?”

“That’s the only reason I can think of. I will see you later,” he said, as he stood up shaking his head.

As he walked around, the reporter spotted a man climbing into a refrigerator. Someone yelled and asked where he was going this time. The man in the refrigerator yelled, “General Washington needs me. I’ll be back.”

The reporter made a beeline over to him.

The Laundromat

Steven L. Bergeron

“Car 22. A  469 has been reported at 228 Jarvis street. Acknowledge you ETA?”

“Our ETA is ten minutes over and out.” I glanced over to my partner, who was scanning through the code book.

“No need for that son, you are about to get your first dose of what goes on around here when the sun goes down.”

Passing through the downtown area, at this time of the night, can be scary. Rule number one, not making any eye contact with the ladies of the night.

WE arrived at our destination with ten minutes to spare. My new partner simply looked at me with a dumb fond look on his face.

“ I can believe it, we are simply going to walk in here, and do nothing about what we just seen?”

“My dear partner, it is what we call survival . Sure what they are doing is illegal, but until we can get solid evidence our hands are pretty well tied.”

Entering my thirty second scan of Pete’s Laundromat proved to be unproductive. No evidence of any foul play to be spotted. A few machines were running, along with a few wooden hangers set up drying what appeared to be a few dresses. One surely not worn, by our ladies of the night. Once we paraded around to the second row of dryers our call had some merit.  A pair of unwaxed  legs, hanging out of the far dryer.

There she was Andrea Spagnoli our assistant DA in  a predicament she never planned for. As far as it goes she looked better than any lingerie model on the red carpet.

“Isn’t it a shame, a body so young as who could have done quite a thing? To think she never got the enjoyment to help her daughter thru her menstrual cramps, on her road to womanhood.”

“That is a very good question. For instinct see these bruises all over her left thigh, the question to ask for here would be what could have cause theses egg shaped form.”

“Hum they look like the same kind of bruises I endured in my younger days. Living with three sisters you are bound to get a few brush slaps every now and then.”

“True ,but there would also see marks inside the bruises, from the bristles now would there be?”

“Well unless it was done with the unbristled backside. I seen a purse on my way in, should I go check it for a brush?”

“There you go my partner good synopsis of the situation.”

“Sorry  inspector no brushes here, which is odd. Growing up with females you get to learn no woman leaves there home without one.”

A search of the outside area proved successful. One block down, in a alley dumpster a wooden hand brush we did find. To our surprise the backside had evidence of blood soaked trauma.

The Heroine

Keith Badowski

I could see you inside my womb since conception, but only this morning I’m sure. You were either Bruce or Diana, and I had hoped against hope for Bruce. Not for any traditional reasons, little Diana, but because the women in our family are physically stronger than any man who has ever walked the earth, and that isn’t easy. We’re invulnerable too, which causes all sorts of inconveniences. Our “hair of steel” racks up bristleless brushes galore. Thankfully atomic power holds promise for shaving legs.

Other abilities, like my own x-ray vision, may be inherited. I can see through clothes, skin, walls, automobiles, and even buildings. What I wish I could see, but can’t, is the future. If I did, I might have prevented you, but I shouldn’t imagine my remorseful past as your future, even though that’s all I have to go on, and all I have to tell.

 For years I’ve worked with Henry, investigative reporter for the Daily Bullhorn and “genius” at stumbling into peril. It’s been my mission to be there in the guise of his pretty cub photographer. The trick is how to rescue him without divulging my secret. I’ve tripped power breakers, blinded Henry with cigarette ashes, and made humiliating, bladder-related excuses to disappear just as situations reached a crisis.

The difference that fateful day was we weren’t a duo. Henry brought along his fiancée Janie. He’d gotten a tip that a ring was meeting late one night, posing as bachelors doing wash, to divvy up their recent booty. Henry proposed a charade of our own—a laundromat photoshoot with Janie as the model.

Henry boosted Janie inside the top porthole of a stacked dryer unit, and from there she dangled her attractive legs for my camera. While I snapped shots Henry would likely treasure for years, I scanned for our suspects. Two known crooks were headed our way—Johnny “Iron Knuckles” Wilson on foot with a holstered gun under his coat and Lex “The Brains” Thorndike in a chauffeured hearse, his well-manicured hand gripping a laundry sack stuffed with diamonds.

Henry, flustered by my excuse of menstrual cramps, took possession of my camera. I dashed behind the laundromat and changed into my suit, complete with rubber skullcap and oversized goggles. Once the diamonds came inside, I sabotaged the power and broke in the back door.

In his ineptly valiant way, Henry picked up a wooden coat hanger to defend Janie. He never got the chance to use it. Wilson sensed my silhouette enter the laundromat and started firing. The first bullet splintered Henry’s coat hanger. The second bullet ricocheted off me and into Janie, ripping through her womb and her lower spine.

The rest happened in slow motion. I shoved Henry to floor, crushed Wilson’s hand around his gun, and then with one strong tug toppled a bank of dryers onto Thorndike, the diamonds, and two accomplices. I called for an ambulance, but Janie bled out before they arrived.

In the following months, Henry turned to his photographer pal for a shoulder to cry on. And you, Diana, are the result of one of those nights of comforting.

Elementary

Tina Biscuit

‘First impressions of the crime scene, Watson.’

‘Coin-operated laundrette, Holmes: six industrial dryers, one with a shoe protruding from the drum; twelve washing machines, two dented; linoleum flooring, worn at centre; six tubular steel chairs, with plastic seats; one toughened-glass door, slightly ajar.’

‘ADT, Watson – attention to detail.’

Watson grimaced.

‘OK, Holmes: one hairbrush, worn; one coat hanger, wooden; one sock, discarded; one newspaper, crumpled; one shoe, black.’

‘A black, leather shoe, Watson; a hairbrush, without bristles, Watson’, he picked up the hanger, and sniffed, ‘beech’. Holmes withdrew a dark fibre, flicked his lighter, and burnt it.

‘Synthetic fibre, Watson.’

He used the hanger to lift the sock, and raised the lighter to repeat the test. It smoked, but did not light. Watson covered his nose. The pungent fumes filled the air. Holmes placed the smouldering items on a seat, and turned to inspect the newspaper.

‘It’s yesterday’s’, he announced.

‘If it was tomorrow’s, I could guess the headline’, said Watson.

‘Go on’, said Holmes.

‘Famous detective burns down laundrette.’

‘Very droll, Watson.’

A curl of smoke rose to the ceiling, and the smoke detector triggered the alarm. Watson fanned the newspaper. Holmes went to open the door, just as a policewoman was entering.

‘Ah, Mr. Holmes’, she brushed past him, ‘and you must be the famous Dr. Watson.’ She removed a glove, and shook hands with Watson. Holmes looked on, and raised a finger to his temple.

‘Jill Fletcher’, said Holmes, ‘we worked on the Temple Road case, together.’

She opened a panel in the wall, and flicked a switch: the alarm stopped.

‘It’s DC Fletcher, now, Holmes, and I think you mean you walked on that case, trampling evidence as you went. Please tell me you haven’t contaminated our murder scene this time.’

‘Murder seems hyperbolic at this stage, Jill, sorry, DC Fletcher. We don’t have a body, yet.’

‘So what gems of deduction can you share, before you leave us, Holmes?’

Holmes picked up the brush, and took a deep breath.

‘Your victim is a bald man, late thirties, black synthetic coat, missing a sock, a fetish for stiletto heels, a penchant for old newspapers, and was probably blackmailing his nemesis.’

She raised an eyebrow, and almost smiled, before her mouth contorted in pain: her hands clenched at her stomach, and she bent forward as if about to fall. Watson caught her, and guided her on to one of the plastic seats, where she remained hunched over.

Watson turned to Holmes.

‘Appendicitis’, he whispered.

‘It’s poisoning, Watson. It occurred just after she removed her glove. The alarm control box must have been coated with a fast-acting poison.’

DC Jill Fletcher stood up, stifling a groan, ‘It’s what women call menstrual cramps: half the world’s population suffers them, and the other half doesn’t seem to notice.’ She raised an arm, and pointed across the room.

‘Talking of noticing…’

‘Ah, I forgot to mention the shoe, said Holmes, ‘ADT’.

‘You also neglected to mention the woman’s body, curled up in the clothes dryer, but I’m sure you were getting around to that detail, Mr. Holmes.’

‘A. T. D. Sherlock, ATD.’

Clothes Dryer One, Hanger Zero

Danielle Lee Zwissler

Jack looked at the facts and tried to piece together a reason for a killer to throw the woman in the clothes dryer, but he couldn’t find one logical answer.

“The woman was only 34,” Jack muttered, shaking his head.

“Yeah, but 34 and hot,” the other detective, Lassiter, said, looking at the same stack of evidence. “Look at picture 2. All that hair…and picture 7, did you see it?”

“Yeah, I saw it,” Jack said and sighed.

“Her hair was a tangled mess. Looks as if the brush on the table was taken out by the hair. Not one bristle.”

There was a wooden hanger, too. Nothing about this case made a lick of sense. “Do you suppose it was an accident?”

Lassiter laughed. “Yeah, sure… What, did the woman just climb into the dryer to fetch a sock or something, and somehow will the thing to turn on on its own?”

Jack rolled his eyes. “As strange as this all seems, she could have been just a little off and climbed in to see if she could fit. Some dryers turn on after the door is shut.”

Lassiter shook his head. “Some, but how the hell did she close the door on her own? It’s not like they have a handle from the inside.”

“What does the autopsy report say? Have we gotten it back yet?” Jack questioned.

“Should have it this afternoon. Marjorie said she’d get it to us before lunch.”

Jack leaned back in his chair. “Did you check up on that guy that she was seeing?”

“Yeah, he’s clear. He was at work all night. And, she called him that evening, too.”

“Could have been him using her phone,” Jack said, and Lassiter picked up a sheet of paper.

“Nope, one of the boyfriend’s friends at work witnessed the phone call.”

Jack huffed. “All we’ve done is move in circles.”

The phone rang just then, and it was Marjorie.

“What did you find out?” Lassiter asked.

“Nothing much. Death by heat, oh and she was on her period.”

“Her period?”

“You know that thing that happens once a month; it’s a bitch,” Marjorie joked.

“Yeah, I know what it is, I just don’t know why that’s important.”

“I’m not the detective, you are,” Marjorie commented. “See you tonight?”

Lassiter laughed. “Yep.”

Lassiter looked at Jack. “So, the dryer was the cause. There’s no other information, other than the lady must have been having some pretty bad menstrual cramps.”

“Menstrual cramps?”

“Marjorie thinks it may be important,” Lassiter commented.

“You and Marjorie going out yet?”

Lassiter smiled. “Yep.”

“So, you think she’s on to something with the cramps?”

“How the hell should I know?”

“Think like the murderer on this one, Lassiter. Would you throw a woman in a clothes dryer?”

“Well, I sure as hell wooden’ hanger,” Lassiter said with a wink and a grin.

“What?!”

“Get it, wooden’ hanger?”

Jack shook his head. “I think we both need to get some sleep and come back to this case fresh in the morning.”

“I couldn’t agree with you more,” Lassiter said and grabbed his coat.

A Tale of Two Laundries

E. Chris Garrison

The life of a mad scientist is often glamorized. But believe me, it’s not all bringing patchwork corpses to life, or building the ultimate death ray. Especially for those of us on a budget, there are simply days when you’ve got to do mundane things. Like my laundry. Which is how I found myself alone at the Laundromat one Saturday night.

Mad science pays a lot less than you’d think it would.

There are laundries closer to my apartment, but I like Ike’s Laundry and Tan’s 1950s atmosphere. Wooden clothes hangers, copper embossed ceiling tiles, and all chrome décor. Cell reception was terrible, since it formed a Faraday cage of sorts, but that suited me fine.

That is, until she happened.

As I watched my laundry tumble in the massive quarter-driven dryer, I had a thought: what better way to clean clothes than to swap them with their as-yet-unused counterparts in alternate dimensions? It’d work through entanglement, and could remove any stain by way of literally never having happened. Of course, some alternate me would have unexplained stains appearing on his clothes. But that’s not my problem. Heck, the same principal could restore the bristles on an old favorite hairbrush, or instantly fix a flat tire…

A flash of light and a booming noise startled me from my daydreaming. It came from my dryer. A jump-suited woman peered out of the machine at me, grinning. She slapped at the glass door with the palm of her hand, and I helped her out.

She stood a little shorter than me, with auburn hair like mine, only longer. Her eyes could have been mine, except for the merry twinkle in them.

“I did it!” she cried, hugging me. Toasty warm, she smelled of my dryer sheets.

“So, you admit it!” I said, shoving her away from me.

A frown clouded her freckled face. “And why shouldn’t I?”

“It’s criminal,” I said. “And dangerous. You are me, aren’t you?”

She nodded. Her smile restored, “Looks like I’m a man in this universe?”

I shrugged. “What’s that got to do with it? You’re just like the others. All evil. Like that me from Atlantis, who stole my marine biologist girlfriend! Or the other me who fried my equipment with an EMP burst to stop my death ray experiments. Or—”

She grinned. “See? It’s meant to be, we’re dimension hoppers! All of us discover quantum tunneling!”

“And you stole my idea. And my laundry! It’s criminal!”

Time for my secret weapon.

In a fury, I pulled out an electronic patch made of pink flexible metal, its surface etched with a crossed-out Venus symbol. I slapped it onto her bare forearm. “Ha! I stole that from the last me – feel the Femmeliminator! Ah ha ha!”

She closed her eyes and her face went slack, followed by a blissful smile. “Dude, we’re about to become filthy stinking rich! That doodad just cured my cramps!”

Sales of Femmeliminators have funded our joint mad science ventures quite nicely.

The Magpies’ Song

Mamie Pound

The clouds drifted farther and farther away, until only a half-moon and bits of stars shone against the blue-velvet sky.

The entire world slept, except the noisy magpies, huddled and waiting in the trees along the water. Their garbled sing-song quickened her heartbeat.

The wooden sash creaked a little as she pushed up the window, then tiptoed along the roof, to the River Birch at the corner of the house.

She threw down her flip flops first and descended, limb by limb, until the soft, wet zoysia met her bare feet. A perfume of roses’ blooms was caught in the wind.

The dirt trail to the river twisted through waist-high reeds in an empty lot and crossed a two-lane highway before she was close enough to hear the lapping water.

He waited on makeshift raft, timber held together with nylon rope, floating on empty plastic barrels.

He smiled.

She took a deep breath.

“Ready?” he said.

“Yeah,” she said and he helped her step onto the rocking floor.

“I have to be back before daybreak,” she said, balancing each step before sinking down, indian-style.

“I know.”

They caught the swift current and at once, were out in the middle, sailing under the stars.

“I always thought it’d be fun, to raft all the way to Apalachicola,” she said. “Catch a freighter to Mexico.”

He dug the post down into the water and guided them along. “Or even South America.”

“Yeah,” she agreed.

She lay on her back on the raft, face up to the stars.

“You know any of the constellations?’ she asked. Warm June air rustled the leaves overhanging the bank, were a counterpoint to the Magpie wings, fluttering overhead.

“Yeah,” he said.

“Which one?”

“Let’s see,” he began, and she knew it was going to turn to a long, winding story that would probably last until morning.

“There once was a couple, Vega and Altair,” he began.

She laughed, dipped her hand into the river and sprayed him with water.

“Alright, then. I bet you’ve never heard of the Coat Hanger Constellation?”

“Of course I have,” she said, stretching out until both her hands trailed behind her in the wake of the raft. “But tell me again.”

“It’s not as bright as it will be in July, but imagine a line from “Altair” toward the even brighter star, “Vega”. Coathanger is in the darkest part of the sky, about a third of the way between them…” he watched as her eyes searched the sky, then met his own.

“You can’t see it without a telescope, can you?” she smiled.

“Of course you can,” he said. “But not with your eyes.” He lay down beside her, and looked up at the stars.

“That one is Cassiopeia and there’s Orion,” he said.

The moon rose higher still. The dominoed birds swooped alongside their vessel, skittering owls from the trees. And they floated along, all the way down the Chattahoochee, until finally, the craft beached itself on a sand bar just north of Eufaula.

The waves were perfect and dark, one after the other.

And the Magpies cloaked them in song.

The Iron Writer Challenge #177, 2016 Autumn Equinox Challenge Championship Preliminary Round, Linda Fairstein Bracket

kid-bango-dog

The Iron Writer Challenge #177

2016 Autumn Equinox Challenge Championship

Preliminary Round

Linda Fairstein Bracket

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

 The Elements:

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

linda_fairstein

Linda Fairstein Bracket

D. Lee Cox, Amy Kasim, Matt Henderson, SzeTeng Ong

Introduction to Wim Meeks

– A Scene from Marie ClemLee Cox

D. Lee Cox

Walking in the southern heat and humidity in late August was like moving through warm broth. The 9:05 Central line arrived at Junction Hall on Sims and 3rd avenue early in the morning.

Into the bright sunny hot morning walked William “Wim” Meeks.

The street corner lacked any color but brown. Brown brick, brown dirt roads, brown water, gas street lamps browned with dust, brown people with brown hats. The smell of manure and body odor and mildew wafted up from under the splintered and rotten boards.

Outside the diner two dusty men sat on a bench smoking cigarettes, an empty pop bottle lay in front of them. Heads tilted down, fedoras over their eyes, laughing in gruff throaty grunts. Upon the edge of the boardwalk a young boy of eight or ten sat playing a banjo to his dog.

Meeks stopped short of the pop bottle, dead in his way.

“Excuse me.”

Neither dusty man moved. 

Long pause.

Meeks picked up the pop bottle and put it next to the boot of one of the men.

Continuing on his way he patted the shoulder of another as he passed.

Six strides down Meeks felt the tap on his shoulder and stopped quietly. 

“Excuse us,” growled a voice behind him.

Meeks turned slowly to view the two shady characters, standing one behind the other.

Their skin was leather, eyes sunken and red. One slightly taller than the other, but favoring in a familial way. Dirt encrusted nails as one reached for his cigarillo.

“What can I do for you?” asked Meeks.

“Just what do you think you’re doin, mister?”

The boy stopped playing his banjo, the dog dipped under the boards.

Meeks took a step toward them.

“I said ‘excuse me’ and you didnt move. I assumed you were asleep. I moved your pop bottle so as to not disturb you,” Meeks leaned into the shade of the other mans filthy hat, “is there a problem with that?”

Meeks had a dead stare in his eyes that might startle the average church-goer. But these men had given up their spirituality a long, long time ago. They were not intimidated.

The first man slowly leaned forward, “You dont touch a man you dont know, mister.”

Meeks looked up at the first man, said, “Didnt mean to offend… friend.”.

He hooked his thumbs into his leather jacket and stared at the first man.

Across the way a butcher was standing in the doorway of his shop. White apron mottled in blood red, yellow fat. Smoking a cigarette, watching a cat drink something out of a saucer.

Two strong wills do not experience “fight or flight” – they experience something more akin to a bookie doing the math. The effort just doesn’t seem worth it.

The second man said, “Tom, I’m gonna go get another pop.”

The first man spit on the ground and snorted, like an angry bull deciding today wasnt the day to gore the bullfighter.

Meeks said, “Good day,” touched the brim of his hat and turned to continue on his way.

Always Had It In Meamy-kasim

Amy Kasim

What happens when a person is ill-treated? Who is to blame; the one who committed the offence or the one who caused the offender to commit the offence? More often than not, people who do wrong are not to blame for what they do. The offences they commit are mostly triggered by past experiences such as broken home, a horrendous incident like continuous bullying in their teenage years or sometimes, it is just the way they are.

In my case, I could be referred to as the guy who played it safe. I was not a bully, the bullies were my allies. It was I who designed the pranks they would use on the innocent ones. Well, don’t hate on me! A brother needs to do what he can to survive boarding school! I had the brains; they had the strength and the fame. I needed them just as much as they needed me. I didn’t have friends, the only one I had was Thomas.

Thomas, my faithful friend, was a stray dog I found lying wounded in the bush behind the school. I slowly nursed him back to health and with the permission of my house master; I got to keep him as a pet. That dog just had an ear to listen to everything; so when I would sit with him on the bleachers at the school field playing the dis-tuned banjo my grandpa left me, Thomas would perk up his ears, wagging his tail with his tongue hanging out as if he understood every single out-of-tune note I played.

My grandpa always said, ‘people do not change; character is just imbedded in them’ never made sense to me till a few years after I had started working at a tech firm. I was a bully all along; the situation needed to bring up itself.

There was this new intern at the firm where I worked. His name was Louis; very shy and timid. He skinny with a crooked nose, always avoided eye contact and would stammer when trying to answer questions. He reminded me so much of myself in high school that it infuriated me. I needed to get rid of him.

I tried talking to my supervisor to change his department but he would not budge so I knew I had to do something. I would usually put him in embarrassing situations like sticking gum on his seat and sticking pads on his shirt which read ‘slap me!’ or ‘I am dumb’. I would taunt him endlessly and make up silly jokes about him, debunking his contributions during meetings and throwing his work in his face. I never saw the need to stop even when he begged me but I guess there is a limit to everything.

One day, out of frustration, Louis almost jumped off our 7 storey because he could not bear the torture anymore. I finally realized who I had become; a bully, someone who always put lives in danger.

Appalachia, Keep Me Dancing

Matt Henderson                                        

“I’m here with ‘Sonny Boy’ Latham,” I started in, coming back from a commercial break. “We were talking about bluegrass and how you started playing the banjo as a young boy.”

“Yeah. I reckon I’s four when I really started playin’,” Sonny Boy half laughed, half sang—He was big on emotion, short on words, and I wasn’t very interested in the subject anyway, and hardly in the mood for pulling teeth.

This was regional cable television in the mid-seventies and I wasn’t excited about most of the assignments I was sent on. I was young and had my eyes on real news; major broadcasting. The trips in a white station wagon, and a minimal expense account were depressing as hell. I felt like I was a million miles from civilization; maybe I was. It seemed like once you hit a certain mile marker on those back roads, the miles started passing exponentially.

“Sonny, do a lot of children still start at such an early age around here?” I asked.

“It’s ‘Sonny Boy’…Told ya that…it was in the papers,” Mr. Latham said rather curtly. No song in his voice; no laughter. “Some do, some don’t. Always been like that. Always will.”

“I asked about that, ‘Sonny Boy’ because we were hoping to get children interested in joining band in their local communities and schools. It was in the papers that we sent. Do you have any words for the children who might want to start playing music?” I nearly yawned.

“If they want to play music, play…Ya can’t make ‘em.” He snorted. “Besides, ain’t no community bands ‘round here, and ain’t no band in the school, neither. Not for miles. They is only family bands. We like it that way.”

“Strange thing, but I get to say this…we do love to say this: A funny thing happened on my way in this morning. I saw this little boy…Looked about four. He was sitting on this wall playing this ancient banjo…the kind with animal skin stretched over the base. He was playing it well, but what struck me was he was playing for this big black dog. The dog was dancing…and he looked like he was smiling. Have you ever seen that boy with his dog?”

“Ain’t no such thing. Cut that camera off. I ain’t got nothin’ else,” the veins stood out as Sonny Boy spoke. Then he walked out of the makeshift studio and jumped in the passenger side of a pick-up that sped off.

The man he called his manager walked up. “You saw the boy?” he asked.

I nodded.

“Look. Don’t take this wrong. You’ve been depressed. A number of us have. This is Appalachia. It’s a country within a country. Runs through a large part of your country. But it’s real. Solid. Spiritually intelligent and coherently humane. Cherokee, Irish, Scottish. Not the hicks you people like to intellectually bully. Everybody sees the dog. Mister, Sonny Boy’s brother killed himself from melancholia a long while back. People say the boy is him, keeping the black dog away. Dog’s name is ‘Bami Jo.’ Nigerian word for ‘Keep me Dancing.’ The banjo’s original name.”

Pack

Ong Sze Teng

The hare was messily torn down the middle, no longer able to stand the strain from both ends. Ozo dropped the end he was holding, but at least he had the decency to look ashamed. Naga was frowning as he tossed the half of his prey to the hound beside him, as if someone had merely made a small slip instead of ruining the pack’s meal. “Well, now you’ve done it.”

“I didn’t mean to pull so hard,” Ozo mumbled.

“Which is surprising, seeing how scrawny you are,” came the scoff. Ozo glanced up immediately, growling at the sneer directed at him.

He hissed back, “Maybe Berry won’t think so.”

“Maybe she will. What happened?”

The whole hunting party stood at attention, flanks still for a moment before turning to gaze calmly at the sleek, lean female gliding into the clearing.

“Our new member seems to think he’s in charge,” Naga reported coldly, head jerking at the hare at Ozo’s feet. A quick inspection, confirmed that the hare had been torn apart, not bitten through neatly, of course. “The hare was in one piece when I caught it.”

Ever one to make wise decisions, Ozo jumped to defend himself. “Naga wanted to claim it, so he snatched it from me! I just pulled too hard, I know I shouldn’t have.”

“Is that why we found the herb store trampled? Or the pups’ prey bitten before they ate?” Naga asked innocently.

He cringed inwardly. The hunting party seemed to be nudged from their silence. Banishment, they uttered, or he’ll will think he’s in charge of the whole pack.

He barely heard anything past that, but he did catch his leader’s somber last words.

“This is not the first time, Ozo. Even I have my limits,” she said quietly. “I’m afraid I can’t help you.”

The slippery woods wouldn’t have been as hard to maneuver if he was calmer. Relentlessly, droplet after droplet slapped across his jaws, the wind slamming against his face as he surged between trees bending in the gale. He could stop, as his legs were begging him too, but a mixture of fury and stubbornness told him the only option was to keep moving forward, because I didn’t deserve this and I am strong and don’t need shelter to survive.

He was still charging aimlessly, when a strong brown blast cut his path off. Mud, and not the roll-about-in kind. He hadn’t realized his camp had been near a hill. It was almost pathetic the way his last thoughts were still on his traitorous pack before the mudslide descended upon him.

Something prodded his flank. Ozo shifted instinctively, immediately restraining a groan at the ache in his hind legs. There was no darkness nor rain; he was out for quite a while. The human lazing across him, had a short tree in its paws, pounding against the bark. If he wasn’t injured, Ozo would gladly have rose to fight. Oddly enough, the sound the human was more soothing than aggressive.

Well, they hadn’t hurt him, merely garbling as he dove deeper into his nest. Maybe he could stay awhile.

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The Iron Writer Challenge #166 – 2016 Summer Open Challenge #3

Harpadon_nehereus_(by_Hamid_Badar_Osmany)

The Iron Writer Challenge #166

2016 Summer Open Challenge #3

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

  Authors:

Amy Kasim, Jason T. Carter, Casie Blevins, Malissa Greenwood

The Elements:

Occam’s Razor

Damocles Sword

A Bombay Duck

This question must be used in your story : “If you found the Fountain of Youth, would you drink?”

 

The Curse of the Bombay Duck

Megan Cypress

Megan CypressSir David stopped in front of a six-foot round marble fountain that had a tree in its center; a sword dangled like mistletoe from one of its branches.

“If you found the fountain of youth would you drink?” David asked me.

“Why? Do you think this it?” 

He nodded and reached into his satchel to pull out a goblet.

I grabbed his arm. “Wait. Don’t you think that sword might be a warning?”

“Nonsense. I’m sure someone just hung it there for decoration.” He bent down to fill the goblet with the water from the fountain. A lizardfish leaped out of the water and knocked the goblet out of his hand. The goblet sank to the bottom of the fountain. “You stupid fish!” David shouted. He climbed onto the ledge of the fountain and reached above him and untied the sword from the rope that held it above the water. He held the sword in one hand and reached into the water with the other. “I’m going to get my youth!” The fish leaped at him again. David swooshed the sword in the air and struck the fish, which landed on the ground several feet away.

I approached the fish and bent down beside him. His tailfin flipped against the grass. He transformed into a young human boy.

“Don’t do it,” the boy said. “Don’t drink from the fountain of youth. Or you’ll be cursed to spend your rediscovered youth as a Bombay duck.”

“Is that what you were? A duck? But you looked like a fish.”

“It’s a bit of a misnomer, much like the fountain of youth, which promises you’ll be forever young…but at what price?”

I turned around to see David pulling the goblet away from his lips. He convulsed and dropped the goblet into the water before shrinking down to a lizardfish. He landed on the ground just outside the fountain.

“David!” I shouted as I ran to his side. “What have you done?”

He repeatedly smacked his lips together as if he were trying to talk, but no words came out.

I picked him up and dropped him into the water. He swam frantically around the goblet, which now lay on the fountain floor. 

I heard coughing coming from behind me. I turned around to see an old man in the young man’s place. I ran back to his side. “How do I stop this?”

“I’m afraid you’re too late. The curse can only be lifted in death.”

“You’re dying because of my friend. You tried to warn him by blocking his way into the fountain. But he didn’t know. I’m so sorry.” 

“Don’t be. He did me a favor. I’ve spent countless years swimming alone in a fountain. I’d grown tired of seeing the same walls and being trapped inside them. I can finally rest in peace. Feel sorry for your friend instead.” He took his last breath.

I returned to the fountain and watched David swim frantically around the shallow water. “I’m so sorry, David.” I hung the sword back on its branch to serve as a warning to others. Then I walked away. Never to return again.

Naa

Amy Kasim

Let me tell you a story. The story of the woman I lived all of my life with; for better and for worse, in sickness and in health, till death did us part. Don’t get it twisted; the Lady was not my wife. I call myself her faithful friend, much like a dog with its master, I was her chief butler. 

The lady Naa Adoley Mensah was a woman made of both fire and ice on the inside. These are typical characteristics of a woman from the coast of Ghana, a Ga woman to be precise. She was tall with chocolate skin so flawless and what I did love about her? Those piercing brown eyes that was as bright as the sky and how she would munch on her favourite meal, Ga Kenkey with shrimps and a Bombay Duck at the side.

Everyone that assumed they knew her felt her life was all peaches and roses. Ha! Have them ask me to my face and I would tell them the exact truth. The truth of what it really was. Naa was one of the loneliest people I’d ever met! She had parties four times a week to while away time and spent the other days with a “friend”. Naa changed men, she claimed were “friends” like she would her clothes. Whenever she was tired of one, she would rid herself of him and find herself another one to make up for the emptiness.

Naa knew danger was looming with her promiscuous lifestyle yet she never cared. Whenever I looked at her disapprovingly after one of her many “partners” left, she would giggle, shrug her shoulders and say, “no more assumptions should be made about something than are necessary Adjetey. They are just friends”.

I remember vividly that day. The time was 8:44pm. I, the only friend she ever had, sat beside her sick bed.

“Adjetey…” she hiccupped. “…I have something to ask you.” Now where I come from, should a person hiccup when seriously sick, it could only mean one thing… death.

I clasped her hand tightly in mine replied with shaky breath. “Yes Naa”

“If you found the fountain of youth, would you drink?”

“Why that question Naa?” I asked her, looking at her as if she had lost her mind.

“I would you know? I would make few friends, love my family and be happy…” she paused “…but I can’t” she whispered “I sat on life’s throne and felt I had it in my grasp. I was ignorant that it would cut the thread to the sword over my head and pierce my soul. Go live your life; I have held you prisoner for too long. I love you…” she left me.

Naa died on Wednesday, July 22, 1998 of cervical cancer. I do not know how saying she loved me was going to make me any free because to the best of my knowledge, I am still her slave and I doubt I will ever be free.

A Dab Will Do You

Casie Blevins

Last night–rough. Tom tried to roll over but found that he couldn’t move at all. What a bender. He really needed to stop going out with the Davis Brothers, Thorne and Jack. He couldn’t possibly out drink those two. The headache, oh man.

Jack had yelled,  “If you found the fountain of youth, would you drink?” and Tom’d lifted his drink and said something about wasn’t that what they were doing? And then laughed, so much laughter. A little hard on the ears if he was honest. A little overdone.

What had Thorne said? Drinking it was like drinking off the devil’s tongue. He’d said, only a sip will do you, but had Tom listened? Did he ever?

He was paying for it now. He couldn’t even turn his head, couldn’t open his eyes.

He could hear though, the sounds of voices. A lot of them, but subdued. Maybe he was on the floor of the bar. He didn’t remember making it home last night. Maybe the TV was on.

What had possessed him to drink so much? Oh, that’s right. Jack’s wife left him, that ballbuster. Tom’d felt a kinship to him having been tossed by the wayside himself. Together they’d toasted their new lives, their freedom. Jack’s wife had wanted a taste of the good life without him. Hook up with whoever, that Brent guy probably, they all knew that. She’d wanted to taste the wine, sit in the Queen’s spot. Well now she had it, didn’t she?  Along with a misogynistic playboy with a penchant for battery in a trailer with no AC in the middle of July. It was almost funny, if you had that kind of sense of humor.

“I’m so sorry, Jack.” Tom could swear he heard Bella. “It was just a stupid accident.”

You don’t leave somebody on accident, Bella. If Tom could move his face, he’d be sneering. Stupid woman.

“It’s my fault, Bella.” He heard Jack say and Tom wanted to shout–never admit it man! Don’t let her back in! “I brought the drink.” He could hear Jack’s tears, the man was bawling like a lost three year old.

Tom was confused. Bella hadn’t left him over booze. That was more Tom’s wife’s problem.

What the hell was going on?

He was feeling nauseated now. If he didn’t get it under control he would be revisiting the Bombay duck he’d eaten. Don’t swallow, that was the trick. Tom found he couldn’t swallow anyway. His mouth was too dry.

More voices. He was really tripping. He could hear his mother murmuring, was that his sister? What was going on here?

“I’d like to say something.” Who was that? It was so familiar. “All of us who knew Tom knew he was capable of anything–he had so much potential. He just had demons to fight. Unfortunately, I was one of them.”

Was that Marissa? Anger bubbled in his stomach. Who let that wench in? The woman who, at the divorce hearing, swore to never look him in the face again unless he was– dead?

Oh no.

Pursuing happiness…vanity.

Jason T. Carter
Jason T. Carter

“If you found the fountain of youth, would you drink?” she asked me.

“If you were offered the highest office in the land, would you take it?” I shot back.

We played this game often; there are no easy answers. Sure, it may be nice to be young forever, but who wants to live in this rotten world longer than he has to? And who really wants all that power, along with all the peril that comes with it?

She picked at her fried Bombay duck. “You don’t like it?” I asked.

“I had a big lunch. I’m sorry.”

Sorry. That was a word she rarely used. A concept she rarely even acknowledged. Something must be wrong.

“Which is worse,” she asked, “failing, or never trying?”

I pondered the question, smiling. “What are you afraid of? Failing? Or missing out on something that you never tried?”

“I’m not sure. I want to be more than I am. But I’m not sure what I want to be.”

“Okay, here’s a question for you. If happiness were the national currency, what job would make you rich?”

Her face turned white at the question, as if she had never considered the possibility of happiness in her life. It has always been about acquiring more, doing more, being more…never contentment or joy. The very thought that one’s state of mind could bring peace seemed to floor her.

“Are you saying that I can be whatever I want to be, and that’s all I have to be?”

“Life is not a contest,” I said. “You are not competing against him or her, you are only here to fulfill your own destiny. If you can be content, why not?”

The concept was so simple, but she had never considered it before.

“The simplest explanation is usually the correct one,” I said.

“That seems like an oversimplification of Occman’s Razor.”

“Perhaps, but it is true. Why do you want more money? To buy more things? Why do you want more things? To have more than someone else? But why? What’s the point?”

“That’s just the way it has always been.”

“Break the mold. Be yourself. Be content, be happy even!”

She put down her fork. Her food was cold.

“I don’t know how,” she whimpered.

I frowned. “Neither do I,” I conceded.

That’s the problem, I thought. No one really knows how.

A Simpler Life

Malissa Greenwood

“If you found the fountain of youth, would you drink?”

The young man responded with a shrug and a chuckle. “Who knows?”

“Oh sure, it may seem like a silly, theoretical question, but think about it. Think about it now and decide, because you’ll need to know how you feel about this should you ever be placed in the situation. I tell you my friend, it is out there. And the moment for debating is now, not in that room.

“I spent most of my adolescence in the village I was born in; began working with my father at the fish markets hawking Mackerel, Ribbon Fish, and the occasional Bombay Duck. It was a fine life for people in those days. But I had loftier goals, grander plans for my future. I would plot and scheme ways to make extra money so I could leave the village and move to the city. But my father would find out and put an end to my ‘senseless behavior’ saying things like, ‘the road to prosperity is simply son. Hard work and integrity. Be mindful of excess.’ His philosophy was that the simpler explanation is always true, and the simpler way of life is always better.

“Though I admired my father I didn’t always heed his advice – I eventually found my way to the city and into a much more lucrative industry. By the time I hit thirty I was surrounded with powerful, wealthy people and boundless opportunities were unfolding before me. Incredible opportunities, the kind most men only dream of.

“I eventually had a choice to make. At the time it was simple – drink from the fountain, remain young and vigorous for as long as you can, enjoy the party. My ‘friends’ were all very quick to partake. And thus, so was I. 

“The first few decades passed in a blur of money, sex, drugs, and authority. I amassed fame and fortune while remaining handsome and energetic.   It was simply glorious… until it wasn’t. Eventually the friends I once had, those who had not been privileged to the fountain, had moved on with their lives, growing old and passing away. I lived in constant fear that I would be found out and killed. A “Damocles Sword” was ever present, always threatening.

“Eventually I got tired of it – the fear, the inevitable loneliness you feel after you’ve isolated yourself for safety. So I walked away. I packed a few of my favorite things and slipped away in the night. I travelled around for a while, stowing away on ships, hopping on trains. Went anywhere I could and found odd jobs to sustain myself. I spent a great deal of time wandering in search of a fulfilling life until one day, over a hundred years later, I realized what I wanted.”

“And what was that? What do you have now?” the young man asked.

I smiled and said, “A simpler life, in a small village, hawking Mackerel, Ribbon fish, and Bombay Duck.”

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