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 #172, 2016 Summer Open Challenge #9

bridle

The Iron Writer Challenge #172

2016 Summer Open Challenge #9

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

  Authors:

D. Lee Cox, Harry Craft, Zac Moran, Amy Topol

The Elements:

A flaming spittoon

A herd of buffalo

An inscribed gravestone

A ancient gold horse bridle

Jim McLandry – Bronco Ridin’ DandyLee Cox

D. Lee Cox

He shuffled into the kitchen and flopped down into the chair, his arm draped over the table.

“I see you’ve spent the evening at the saloon?” Margaret said, turning to him, wiping her hands.

“Dear, the Flaming Spittoon is no mere saloon, it is a fine establishment for men of great character and daring.”

“Jim, its a saloon. Its a nasty, dank, smoked up saloon.”

“AAAAnnny way… so this fellah comes in, all dressed in black, bowler hat, little red feather stuck in the band. He comes up beside me and orders a scotch.”

“The Spittoon hasn’t had scotch in years.”

“I know, right? So I turn to the fella and inform him of his faux pas. He turns and smiles right at me – you know why?”

“I cant imagine.”

“He recognizes me from Bill Cody’s show! Can you believe it? Its been what, 20years? Says, ‘Aren’t you Jim Landry, The Bronco Breaking Dandy, from Buffalo Bill’s?’

“Now mind you I’m surprised, but I just stuck out my hand for a shake.

“So’s this fellow proceeds to tell me about how he followed the show for years and always wanted to meet me!

“We get to talking and he tells me this story about some Roman named Julius somethin-Tavius ridin’ broncs back in the day. Seems this Tavius fellah took a challenge from one of those gods they had and road this bronc, Abraxas, for 2 days. So’s this Julius somethin-Tavius fellah wins a golden bridle from the boss god.

“’Well, shoot,’ I says, ‘I once road a wild buffalo in its herd for seven days across the plains’

“Jim, you did not ride a wild buffalo across the plains…”

“Dammit, Maggie, I did, I tell ya!”

“Jim, you went on a bender in Sioux City and woke up in a livery car in Junction Flats.”

“AAAAnnny way… so’s this gentleman offers to by me a REAL whiskey and makes me a wager: that golden bridle against my soul says I couldn’t ride some pony named Phobos.

Margaret’s eyes got wide.

“Jim, you didn’t… I mean, surely you didn’t…”

“Why you know I did! I aint ever backed away from a wager!”

“Oh god, Jim…”

“Fella had me sign some paper. His pen musta had a burr in it cause it pricked my finger, got a little blood on the parchment.”

He trailed off, murmuring about saddles and beer.

Margaret put him to bed shortly after.

She sat down at the kitchen table and lit a cigarette.

She reached for the telephone on the wall.

“Laura? Can you get me Ted McLandry over in Brindly?”

A click, then a tin voice from the receiver, “Hello?”

“Ted? Margaret. Listen, remember how I went ahead and paid you for your cousins tombstone, just leaving the date blank? Yeah, well, go ahead and make it for tomorrow. I’ll explain later.”

The JokeHarry Craft

Harry Craft

As he sat on the porch, Luke lit his pipe. After the first couple of puffs, he tossed the match into the spittoon nearby. Instead of the match fizzling out in the spit, a spurt of flame shot upward. In a few moments, the spittoon was flaming. Another one of Zeke’s practical jokes, Luke thought. Zeke had probably poured whiskey into the spittoon to make the contents flammable. Typical.

After finishing his pipe, Luke walked over to the stable. He passed the family cemetery, filled with headstones of his grandparents and other kin. Luke arrived at the stable, saddled and bridled his horse, and rode off towards town. In the distance he could see a small herd of buffalo. Used to be lots more of ‘em. Shame.

After about an hour, Luke arrived at the trading post. He walked over to the counter to ask for some necessities when he noticed a gold-colored bridle hanging from the wall. “What’s that?” he asked the storekeeper.

“That, sir, is an ancient golden bridle, owned by Alexander the Great himself!” Luke glowered skeptically. The shopkeeper laughed. “Of course it’s not! It’s not even real gold—just cleverly painted. I keep it to dress up the shop a bit.”

Luke smiled slightly. “How much do you want for it?” At first, the shopkeeper was unwilling to sell it—“decorative”, he said—but finally after some haggling, Luke bought it for $2.50. He went out, placed the goods he’d bought in the saddlebags, and switched the bridle his horse was wearing for the “golden” bridle.

When Luke arrived home, Zeke was sitting on the porch, smiling. Luke knew Zeke was hoping the spittoon fire had annoyed him, but he ignored Zeke, instead slowing his horse down to make sure Zeke saw the shiny gold of the bridle. Slightly irritated that Luke hadn’t taken the bait, but noticing the bridle, Zeke said, “Hey, where’d you get that fancy bridle?”

“Ain’t nothing to speak of. Just saw it at the trading post and liked it,” Luke told his brother in a casual voice. Luke kept his face totally straight. He was naturally prickly and temperamental. Being low-key would immediate make Zeke suspicious. In fact, exactly this happened. Zeke came down from the porch and walked up to Luke as he took the saddle and bridle off the horse.

“Hey, is there something special about that bridle?”

“I told you—it ain’t nothing.” Luke hung the bridle on the wall.

“You’re actin’ funny, Luke. Is this here bridle something special?”

“Never you mind!” growled Luke in what he hoped sounded like real anger. He turned his back on Zeke and headed back towards the house. Zeke remained behind, staring at the bridle.

Luke could barely suppress a grin. He knew Zeke. Tomorrow he’d surreptitiously take the bridle to town, convinced it was worth a fortune. Luke could imagine his face when the shopkeeper laughed at him. Finally a payback for all Zeke’s jokes!

He Always Had a Plan

Amy Topol

We found the horse bridle next to a poisoned pond. We knew it was poisoned because a kerchief hung on a tree branch over the pond. Also, the dead horse was a giveaway. The bridle was still attached to its bones, but Joe was never squeamish about these things. He just took it off and held it up to let it catch the sun.

“It’s pure gold, Bill. We’ve got to sell it,” Joe said as we walked back towards town. Joe always had plans, mostly bad ones, but this seemed to make sense.

We went to see a short, squat toad of a man who bought and sold things. He looked over the bridle. “Fake,” he said and spit into a brass spittoon that had a herd of buffalo engraved on its side.

“Not,” said Joe, as if he knew. Right or wrong never mattered to him. He chose his side and stuck with it.

The toad raised an eyebrow and stared Joe down. He wasn’t going to give in to a kid. I saw a bead of sweat slide down the toad’s brow and that’s when I knew. This time, Joe stood on the side of right.

“Ten,” said the toad.

Joe put out his hand, “We’ll take our business elsewhere.”

The toad gripped the bridle tighter with one hand and put his other hand on his holster and said, “How about you move along, boy.”

You know that queasy feeling you get right before things go bad wrong? Well, right at that moment, I had it.

On account of Joe’s bad plans, I always had a backup. In this case, a kerchief tied around a piece of wood and some dry leaves in one pocket and a match in the other.

I lit my makeshift smoke bomb and tossed it into the spittoon. It worked fine, ‘til the toad messed it all up. The idiot stumbled through the smoke and knocked a kerosene lamp into the spittoon. The whole thing went up in a flaming mess.

I ran for the door and screamed for Joe, but Joe ran for the bridle. The last thing I saw was Joe and the toad in a tug-of-war with the bridle. The room filled with smoke as someone snatched me out of the store by the back of my shirt.

I went back after the crown left but before the ashes had a chance to cool and dug out what was left of the bridle. No one paid attention to a kids like us…well, like me.

Joe ended up in a potter’s field, since he had no family. I took the bridle and buried it on top of Joe while the dirt was still fresh and loose. Joe deserved better than what he got in this life, so I made a new plan. A better plan than Joe or I ever had, I think.

When I get older, old enough for people to take me seriously, I’ll dig up that bridle and sell it. Then I’ll get him a real headstone that says “Here lies Joe. He always had a plan.”

Overseers

Zac Moran

Valriya slipped on the virtual reality helmet, encasing her head in total darkness.

Screens in front of her eyes lit up. Images of blue skies filled her vision and the sound of wind harmonized with the grass around her. There was a snort nearby. She stood up and found herself surrounded by a herd of grazing buffalo.

“Menu,” she said.

A screen appeared in front of her. She tapped a button labeled “See Others.”

Ghostly images of her friends and the other people in the auditorium shimmered into view. They were all interacting with the scenery and buffalo.

Valriya tapped the button again and they faded away. Another button and the menu vanished as well.

“Two thousand years ago, in the year 1843, bison hunting was a booming trade,” said a disembodied voice.

Shots rang out and two buffalo toppled over. The herd didn’t react.

“Bison hunters could earn enough to retire after just a couple years of work,” said the voice, “Of course, they had plenty of help from the Sham’Kon. Our great leaders from Heaven.”

A large metallic ship flew into view above Valriya and the herd. The ship’s belly opened. Valriya and the dead bison flew up into the ship and the doors closed beneath her feet. She peered around and saw a painting on the wall of a golden horse bridal draped over a gravestone. Below the painting was an inscription.

PRETTY FALSEHOODS ENSLAVE YOU TO THEIR WILL

“What the hell?” said Valriya

“Well hello there little lady,” said a voice behind her.

She spun around to see a man leaning against a nearby bulkhead.

“Hello! This is a beautiful Sham’Kon vessel!”

The man shot a mouthful of brown liquid into a nearby spittoon, which then caught ablaze.

“Um, should that be on fire?” Valriya asked.

He walked over to her.

“You wanna tour?” he asked, his head twitching sporadically.
“Aw, man,” said Valriya. “The helmet must be glitching. Menu.”

The menu popped up, but the only option available was “See Others.” She tapped it.

The buffalo lying on the floor of the cargo hold shimmered as their shape changed to that of her friend’s corpses.

Valriya screamed.

The hunter grabbed her shoulders.

“We were not meant to be slaves!” he yelled.

Valriya struggled against his grip.

“The Sham’Kon are false gods! Wake up!” yelled the hunter, “Wake up!”

The helmet came off Valriya’s head.

“Val, wake up!” yelled Erixa, shaking Valriya’s shoulders.

“What’s wrong?” asked Ryliea, holding Valriya’s helmet.

Other people in the auditorium were murmuring.

Valriya grabbed onto Erixa and hugged her, tears streaming down her face.

“The hunter shot the bison, but you guys were the bison,” Valriya said between sobs, “And there was a painting and he said the Sham’Kon are false gods.”

“This helmet is clearly malfunctioning,” said a voice behind the girls. They looked to see a gray humanoid figure towering over them.

“We, the Sham’Kon, have been your benevolent caretakers since the dawn of time. Now, may I have that helmet so no others will be traumatized?”

No,” thought Valriya, but Ryliea was already handing it over.

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The Iron Writer Challenge #162 – 2016 Spring Solstice Open, Preliminary Round, They’re Bracket

balloonfest

The Iron Writer Challenge #162

2016 Spring Solstice Open, Preliminary Round

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Brackets/Authors:

They’re Bracket

D. Lee Cox, M. D. Pitman, Richard Russell, Emmy Gatrell

The Elements:

A Sky balloon festival

Trash talk

Hot Dogs

A Bow and a single arrow

The Invasionemmy-gatrell

Emmy Gatrell

As I cut the wheel and parked, gravel sprayed the bottom step of the dilapidated cabin. It always had looked like something out of a redneck horror show and still did. The tin roof was rusty, windows had new papers and foil covering them, the porch was falling apart and had a moldy couch and rocking chairs adorning it, the entire house tilted to the left and looked like it would fall over in a stiff breeze.

“So kind of you to take the day off to help, Matt.” Luis stepped out onto the porch and let the old screen door slam behind him.

“I don’t work on Saturday’s.”

“I should have figured you wouldn’t take a day off to help your family.”

“My job is keeping this family afloat.”

“I can’t have a job because I’m the only one taking care of our mother.”

“You don’t have a job because you don’t want one.”

Luis glared, crossed his arms over his chest, and changed the subject, “I stashed the weapons but I couldn’t find her bow and arrows.”

“It’s okay. I broke almost all the arrows when she shot me in the leg last Thanksgiving. I couldn’t break the bow or the arrow; Dad made them for her.”

“Well, that’s just great,” Luis replied sarcastically.

“What damage could she possibly do with a bow and a single arrow?”

“We’re talking about our mother.”

“Point taken. We better find it.” I cringed when I saw the first multi-colored hot air balloon come into view. “Who is it this year?”

He smiled, “You’re going love it. I told you not to get her cable.”

“Matt!” My mother ran from the back the cabin screaming, her worn floral mumu flying behind her like a cape, “They’re coming!”

“No one is—” I grunted as she hit me like a linebacker.

She pushed me to the other side of the car, peeked over the hood, and pointed to the sky, “They’re invading. Coming for our jobs and women. The people on Fox News warned us this would happen.”

“Fox News is just trash talk. No one is invading, those balloons are from the hot air balloon festival in Albuquerque.”

“Liberal,” she shook her head. “How else will they get over the wall?”

“Who’s trying to get over what wall?”

“The Mexicans,” she whispered dramatically.

I managed to keep a straight face, “We’re Mexican.”

“If we were Mexican we’d be eating tacos for lunch and not hot dogs.”

I blinked a couple of times, “That might be the craziest thing you’ve ever said.”

“Now who’s trash talking?” She looked up at the sky filling with balloons and shook her head, “I need to find my bow.” Then began army crawling to the barn.

“Better follow; she still has great aim. I’ll make lunch.”

“Hot dogs again?”

He shrugged, “Yep.”

“I hate hot dogs.” He smiled and shrugged then I ran to beat Mama to the barn.

And Then One DayRichard Russell

Richard Russell

Jack slowly pulled up to the gate of the fairgrounds and handed the attendant his entry form. The attendant took the form, “Gonna be a humdinger of a balloon festival this year, bud. We’ve got more entries this year than ever before, and the weather looks to be about perfect.”

Jack kind of smirked unenthusiastically. “That’s great,” he said in a monotone mumble.

“You don’t seem to be very excited about it,” the attendant responded.

Jack sighed, “Yeah, well, it just seems like an awful lot of trouble these days.”

“Oh, I see,” mused the attendant, “Kind of depressed, are we?”

“Yeah, I guess. Maybe I ought to just go back home.”

“Yeah, maybe… but seein’ as you’re already here with your gear and all …

Tell you what; I’m just gonna waive your entry fee and let you in for free.”

Jack’s eyes widened a bit. “Seriously?”

“Just git on in there and get your gear set up. You’re running a little late…. And have a nice day!”

Jack found a space to park out in the field and began to unload his balloon. It really was a nice day. He looked around at the other balloonists as they were setting up. They all seemed to have other people with them. One team wore matching shirts and hats; another couple argued over something; others with picnic lunches set out looked to simply enjoy the day. Suddenly feeling hungry, Jack wandered over to the kiosk.

A woman in the window chirped, “What’ll it be?”  

Jack nonchalantly replied, “Gimme a cheese burger.”

The woman pressed, “Is that all? Just a cheese burger?   You want fries? … a drink?”

Jack rolled his eyes and, for the first time, he really looked at her. She was quite attractive. “Uh ….. sure. Why not?”

She smiled, “Okay then. You entered in the balloon festival?”

“Yeah, that’s me over there with the green pick-up. I guess I’d better get set up; looks like I’m a little behind schedule.”

Handing him his food, the woman said, “I’m Sue… and you are…?”

“Jack.”

“Nice to meet you, Jack.”

Fifteen minutes later, Jack was hurrying to get his balloon set up when Sue came over.  

“You’d better hurry up,” she fretted.   “Can I lend you a hand?”

A little surprised, Jack responded, “I could use all the help I can get.”

The two worked seamlessly together as if they had been together their whole lives.

Just as all the balloons were taking off, the “hot dogs” with the matching shirts hollered, “Where’d you get that old wicker relic, dude? You inherit that from your grandmother?”

Sue hollered back, “Shut yer pie-hole, dork!”

Then she climbed into the basket with Jack, “Let’s show ’em how it’s done.”

When they were well under way, Jack had a moment to relax. As he watched Sue look out over the countryside, Cupid drew his bow and pierced Jack’s heart with a single, well-placed arrow.

Vengeance is the Judge’sMichael Pitman

M. D. Pitman

Bruce and Peter were the best hot air balloon pilots in the country. But the one-time best friends are now rivals and the Mid-Town Hot Air Balloon Festival and Challenge is the most competitive in the country. Peter’s won it five straight times… until last year. Bruce’s prank opened the door for him to win, and a repeat would guarantee his place in the Ballooning Hall of Fame.

But Peter won’t let Bruce pull another prank. His basket still reeks of hot dogs and spotted with ketchup and mustard stains. 

Bruce strolled by Peter’s balloon, which this year is stitched with Robin Hood drawing an arrow with a bow. With a mouth full of a hot dog, Bruce loudly muffled, “Want a bite?” He held up a half-eaten foot-long dog, oozing ketchup and mustard onto his fingers. A few drops splashed onto a dirt spot in the patchy grass field.

“Jerk,” Peter whispered, glaring at the black-haired doughy man who couldn’t keep food in his mouth as he bellowed.

Peter stifled that laughter when he pulled out a bow.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “Purely for show.” Peter was unconvincing. He smiled as he pulled out a quiver of arrows. He slung both over a shoulder.

Bruce stared slack-jawed at Peter who pantomimed drawing a bow toward his balloon. The now pale-faced man scurried to his balloon three spots away. 

Bruce called on who appeared to be a judge. The ensuing conversation didn’t look friendly. Shaking his head, the judge walked over toward Peter.

A couple steps away the judge cocked his head with a funny look on his face as he smelled the air. “Is that stale hot dog?”

Peter grimaced at the memory. “Yes … it is.” He exhaled a defeated sigh. “That guy you were talking to filled my basket last year with hot dogs.”

“I remember that,” the judge said with a smile, which vanished as Peter glared. “Was wondering who did that. Figures it was Bruce.”

Peter flashed a quizzical glance. “You know Bruce, um…”

“Johnny. We go a ways back.” He closed his eyes appearing to reflect on a memory. “If I wasn’t a Christian man, I’d have a few choice words. Calling him a jerk is an understatement.”

“And you’re a judge?”

“Not for the challenge. For the balloon glow tonight.”

Johnny began to walk away but paused and turned. He walked close and whispered, “You know if you do decide to shoot fire off an arrow, I’ll ditch the evidence.” He winked.

Peter gave it a hard thought. “Tempting, but I better pass.”

“Well, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed if something does happen. Right?”

“It wouldn’t hurt my feelings.” Peter laughed at the sarcastic gesture. “Karma and all.”

The next morning as Bruce unpacked his balloon to inflate it for the challenge, Peter saw him flail his arms and heard barely audible screams. They were not words children and church-goers should hear. He then saw two raccoons escape through one of the balloon’s several holes.

At the judge’s tent 20 feet away, one of Johnny’s hands was heavily bandaged. Peter caught his eye. He winked and smiled.

Momma Wants a Balloon

Lee Cox

D. Lee Cox

Patricia Kreis was getting on in years. Her long auburn locks had given way to gray and white, yet she still held it back with a tortoise shell headband sporting blue hydrangeas.

She sat at a cherry meeting table, picking at her Sneaky Pete’s slaw dog. She wore a peace sign button over one breast covered in a faded Pepsi tee-shirt.

Boyd Maynard, a thirty-something trust manager, sat in his office just off the meeting room. A hand on his brow, a thin waft of strawberry blonde hair barely cutting the shine from his pate.

“Becky, I cant do this. I didnt go to Dartmouth to deal with witches like this. Cant you just tell her I’m out of the office?”
“Mr. Maynard, that’s just unprofessional. In fact, I’m pretty sure she saw you run behind my cubicle when you saw her come in.”

“BOYD! Momma wants a BALLOON! Get in here!”

Becky smiled. “You heard her – Momma awaits!”

Maynard flung himself forward, gathered up manila folders, and shuffled into the conference room.

“Good afternoon, Ms. Kreis. How can I hel….”

“Boyd, I need a balloon. A big ass balloon. One of them balloons what sails the skies with pretty colors and a helluva fire underneath. I’m entering the balloon race next month.”

“The All-State Regional Championship?”

“Thats the one, by jiminy!”

“Ms. Kreis…”
“Son, I have a mighty hefty portfolio there. If you wish to continue managing this account, you’ll call me ‘Momma Pat’.”

Maynard pursed his lips. Let out a breath.

“Momma Pat, you’re eighty nine years old…”

“Eighty seven.”

“You were born in 1927.”

“Twenty nine, it was a typo”

A long sigh.

“Ma’am, you cant possibly learn to pilot a hot-air balloon by mid-July. My grandfather is in that race and he’s been flying for decades.”

“I know. That’s why I’m entering the race.”

“I… I beg your pardon?”

“Your grandpa, he stood me up for the bingo last week. He’s a lyin’, no-good, sumbitch and I intend to beat his ass at the balloon race.”

“Ma’am, my grandfather has won hundreds of hot air balloon races. You cant possibly think you’d beat him…”

“I can, and I will. Now you just cut me a check for two-hundred fifty thousand dollars.”

“You want $250 thousand dollars for what?”

“I’m buyin a balloon and I’m staking Terrell Sturdivent to pilot it.”

“Terrell Sturdivent? I thought he was dead.”

“No. Not dead. Drunk? Yes. Dead? No. But I’ll have him sobered up and ready to whoop your grandpas wrinkly old ass next month!”

“Ma’am, I cant possibly condone the use of your money like this. This is an enormous amount for shear folly.”

“Son, you will cut me that check, and you will cut it immediately. I will be there in my own fancy balloon when they shoot that flamin’ arrow to start the race or you, sir, will be in a strip mall doin taxes for free for a livin’.”

“Ma’am…”

“NOW SON!”

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