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

The Iron Writer Challenge #177

2016 Autumn Equinox Challenge Championship

Preliminary Round

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

 The Elements:

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

The Brackets:

richardnorthpatterson

Richard North Patterson Bracket

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

Deserted Life with StarsMamie Pound

Mamie Pound

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

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

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

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

He shook his head. “Donna’s great.”

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

“You okay?”

“I’m bored out of my mind,” she said.

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

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

He looked at her.

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

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

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

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

The sixth grade teacher approached.

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

Rob rolled his eyes.

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

“Sure,” Nancy said, chugged the coffee.

The teacher walked away.

“Are you kidding me?” Rob said.

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

“It was in the catering order.”

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

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

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

“Kind of risky,” he said.

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

“I need the insurance.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah,” he said.

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

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

BuddyGeoff Gore

Geoff Gore

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

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

*****

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

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

Disability

Philip Blaiklock

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

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

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

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

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

“Who … who are you?”

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

“So what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mind your business.”

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

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

“What?”

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

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

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

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

Boxcar FortyAlis Van Doorn

Alis Van Doorn

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

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

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

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

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

“Quiet Finn!”

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

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

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

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

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

“Finley William Smith, Sir.”

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

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

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

“And your name?”

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

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

“Fortescue William Smith.” mumbled Forty.

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

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

“I see.” said William quietly.

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

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

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

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

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

Fortescue and Finley William Smith howled with happiness.

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The Iron Writer Challenge #174 – 2016 Summer Open Challenge #11

mine-entrance

The Iron Writer Challenge #174

2016 Summer Open Challenge #11

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

  Authors:

Richard Russell, Harry Craft, Geoff Gore, Vance Rowe, Bobby Salomons 

The Elements:

An abandon mine
Gold teeth from a dead person
Whistling
Main character is being pursued

Untitled

Vance Rowe

“Are they still behind us?” Charlie Gable asked his brother, as the turned their horses into the canyon.

“Little brother, they will follow us right to Mexico. I don’t think they took very kindly to us robbing their bank,” Frank Gable replied with a chuckle.

“Big brother, I think you are right,” Charlie replied with a laugh of his own. “Maybe we can lose them in these canyons.”

“I surely do hope so. I ain’t liking the idea of being sent to Yuma prison or being strung up neither.”

They soon left the canyon and started their horses up a hill to try and lose the posse. Near the top of the hill, they spotted an abandoned mine.

“Let’s go in there Charlie. We can bring the horses in and let them rest.”

The two men entered the mine and brought their horses as far into the mine as they could, just so they wouldn’t be heard. 

The two men decided to check out the mine and maybe see if there was another way out. As they walked deeper into the mine, they heard a whistling noise. They walked deeper into the mine to check out the sound and Frank tripped over something and fell to the ground. Charlie lit a match and they were shocked to see a skeleton of a human body.  Charlie used the match to check the skeleton out and was happy to see gold teeth in the head of the skeleton. After helping his brother up, Charlie pulled the teeth out of the mouth and put them in his pocket.

Suddenly the whistling noise got louder and when they turned to look down the mine, they saw a pair of yellow glowing dots in the darkness. They didn’t stick around to see what it was. The two men quickly ran back toward the front of the mine, They grabbed their horses and ran out of the mine. They spotted the posse on the trail below them and Frank shouted to them.

The sheriff and the posse hurried up the hill.

Frank said,”Please arrest us sheriff and get us out of here, There is a ghost or something in there with yellow glowing eyes.” 

Charlie Gable grabbed the bags of stolen money from the bank and handed them to the sheriff, The two men handed their guns to men in the posse and they mounted their horses.

“We’ll meet you back in town Sheriff,” Frank said as he kicked his horse and rode out of there, followed by his brother.

A deer walked out of the mine and the men in the posse laughed and hurried to catch up with the criminals.

Broken HillGeoff Gore

Geoff Gore

Ray Whitten was the last CEO of what had once been one of the most prosperous companies on the planet. The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. BHP. It seemed fitting it should end here. For more than a century the Earth here had willingly offered its soul to the long line of men before him who had been only too willing to receive it, in exchange for cold, hard, cash.

That was before they discovered the artefact. Even then, at first, there were scant few people on the planet who knew the secret of its existence. That was before it poisoned the surrounding landscape and the minds of those who’d once lived there.

How many had died?

He couldn’t tell. All he knew was those who remained would hunt him down until they found either him, or the artefact itself.

He stopped the car and checked the mirror to see if he could catch a glimpse of his pursuers.

Nothing.

It wouldn’t stay that way for log.

He scooped the cloth wrapped relic from the passenger seat beside him, hugged it close and stepped out into the hot wind whistling across the dusty red earth.

Broken Hill.

Once there’d actually been a hill here. A modern day tower of babel, stretching upwards toward God. It wasn’t so much a tower of knowledge as a tower of money. When the mines had been prosperous the mining magnates had thought themselves God’s, but it was what lay hidden beneath that was the real source of power.

Broken Hill.

Broken men.

In the last years, under his tenure as CEO, the only gold extracted from this place had come from the teeth of the men who’d died here.

Broken himself, Whitten trudged across the open earth. Whatever parched grass remained turned to dust under his boots until he stood at the edge of a deep scar in the Earth where once a mighty mountain stood. To his right a huge grader lay silent, slowly being buried by the wind-borne sand. Mother Nature trying to conceal the evidence. An accessory after the fact. A skeleton slumped in the driver’s seat. One of the many who never stood a chance when they’d first found the object. The artefact still wrapped beneath his coat seemed to throb against him like a heartbeat. In the distance behind him another steady metronomic thud was getting louder.

Choppers.

They’d found him. Soon they’d be on top of him. He had to finish what he’d come to do. To return the cursed thing to where it had come from and where hopefully, it would never be found again. He kept going. Staggering on to the left of the main pit, until he found the abandoned shaft. A cavernous maw in the ground. Behind him the thrum of the approaching helicopters grew into a roar. He knew all that remained for him to do. He peered over the edge into the abyss. He stole one last look behind, then stepped forward.

James 4:17Richard Russell

Richard Russell

Soldat Friedrich Huber was simply doing his job. Assigned to a small convoy driving cargo from Germany to Switzerland, he had no idea what the cargo was. His wipers swished back and forth trying to keep up with the barrage of rain, but the hypnotic rhythm and anxiety of driving with blacked-out headlights was exhausting. When the deluge was at its worst, Friedrich took a wrong turn and drove many miles before realizing he was separated from the rest of the convoy.

While trying to turn around, his truck slid into a ditch and nearly turned over. Opening the back to check on his cargo, Friedrich discovered a crate had broken open.

He scooped up a handful of the contents. Astounded, he realized it was gold. As he looked closer, he was horrified. Friedrich was young but he was not stupid. This gold was certainly taken from dead Jewish prisoners in Dachau. But there was so much of it! How many human beings must they have killed? Thousands? Tens of thousands? More? Friedrich’s stomach turned sour and he vomited. His naive adoration for the glorious Third Reich – his own German government – came crashing down from its pedestal.

He would have no part in this … Except …

He thought quickly … There was something he could do!

It was in his power to return the items of gold he now had under his control.

He could turn it over to its rightful owners, the Jewish people.

He knew it would cost him his life, but it was the right thing to do.

Using the winch on the truck, he got back on the road and headed farther away from the convoy. They would soon discover his absence. He had to get far away and work quickly…

Taking the gold out of the crates, Friedrich hid the treasure in an abandoned mine.

He quickly penned a letter to a “Jewish Rabbi, Switzerland,” and gave the letter to a small group of refugees headed across the border. He refilled the crates to make the truck appear heavy and resealed them.

The SS caught up with Friedrich after he had spent several hours driving back into the heart of Germany. Pulled over, the truck was searched, but the crates now only held rocks.

Friedrich died a slow, horrible death as they tried to make him tell where the gold was.

The unopened letter was delivered 30 years later to a Jewish Rabbi in Switzerland. It simply said, “ ‘On a windy day you can hear the sound of toothless whistling underground; Rising up from all around for their lost treasure to be found.’ On behalf of the German people, I apologize for the wrongs perpetrated against your race. Signed, Friedrich Huber.”

Eventually investigations revealed the existence of an abandoned mine in the south of Germany where locals claimed the wind would make an eerie whistling as it blew through the tunnels. The World Jewish Restoration Organization found the mine and several hundred pounds of gold teeth and fillings taken from murdered prisoners of German concentration camps.

A Clipboard and a WhistleBobby Salomons

Bobby Salomons

My heart is beating in my throat, I can taste it. I can literally taste the pulse. It drones in my head with every beat of my racing heart.

I can hear the sound of crushing rocks and pebbles underneath the soles of my boots. My legs are on fire, burning more with every step up against the steep incline. The ground slips away beneath me, and my balance begins to shift, my knee crashes into the ground. I can feel gravel breaking the skin and piercing its way into the soft tissue underneath. Blood mingling with dirt. I don’t care.

I grab onto a protruding metal bar and pull myself up, everything hurts. I gasp for air as I straighten my leg and an intense pain momentarily overcomes the urge to survive. Faint voices, angry whispers, follow from the darkness behind me.
Warm tears running down my cheeks. Snot running from my nose. Mucus is obstructing my throat as I try to draw some oxygen in. It’s so hard to breathe.
I miss my family, afraid I’ll never see them, but worse is the crushing guilt that I’ll leave them behind. A weight heavier than tunnel collapse.

Nothing and no one was supposed to be in here. All I was here for was to inspect if it was safe for tours, all I brought was a clipboard and a headlight. Something grabbed my clipboard, I’ve broken the light. All I have to go by is going upwards and a faint light in the distance that I can only hope is the outside world.

The vaguest sound of a whistle haunts me, it may be the wind outside, or a draft from another tunnel. But it’s enough for me to try again. I begin to climb, with every step hurting more than the last. But I have to try, just a few more steps. Then another. Each one counts.
Behind me an overwhelming sinister is watching – following me shortly. I grab my tapeline and throw it at the darkness. A chilling cold creeps up my spine as it never hits the ground. It just disappeared into the void behind me, that is darker than night and my eyes can register. It hates me.

One final time the adrenaline shoots through every fibre still left, and I can tell that I’m about to be pounced. I throw myself forward and gain some momentum, my chest thunders like a drum to a point where I worry if it will suddenly stop. But it doesn’t matter, I’d rather die trying. Everything is in slow motion as I take bigger strides than I thought possible, my bones bending under the stress, but I’m doing it. Light is near, just a few more strides.

Behind me gains something, the whistle turning into a deafening scream, overcoming even my own. But then the sound escapes, into the open. I fall out onto grass and turn around to look back. Into pitch blackness retreats a twisted, evil face. The wail fades back into a whistling, coming from between a dead man’s golden teeth. I’m quitting my job today. I sob.

BequestHarry Craft

Harry Craft

As he came to entrance to the mine, Jack looked back. No sign of his pursuer; but he knew Lucian had not given up and would still be on his trail. Jack leaned against the jamb to rest a moment. Straightening up, he took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and entered the mine. Dangerous, to be sure; but safer than being captured.

As he turned on his flashlight and headed farther in, he thought about the time he and Lucian had spent as fellow students of the old man. He had taught them the esoteric lore that had been passed down for generations. As they progressed, learning more and more about the powers of the mind, he had promised them that one day they would be able to make full use of the arcane powers that moderns called paranormal, but the ancients knew simply as “magic”.

Jack carefully picked his way along the tracks and sighed, recalling Lucian’s impatience. The old man had said that to become a master one must be worthy. Moreover, one could receive final empowerment only by a free gift from the master. Lucian had actually laughed when the old man had said that.

Gift?! If we learn all the techniques and have the understanding, why do we need a final ‘empowerment’?”

“This teaching is sacred,” the old man had said. “The empowerment is to ensure that only the truly deserving attain full power. The master must give the final permission to the ones he deems worthy. Otherwise, he might be turning loose horrible evil on the world!”

On the last day of training, the old man had announced that he would give the empowerment to Jack; but not to Lucian. Enraged, Lucian had attacked the old man before he could give Jack the empowerment. Stunned, Jack tried to stop him, but the old man was already dead.

“If the old man can’t give me the powers, I’ll find a way myself!” Lucian had screamed. Jack had tried to bind Lucian with his power, but they were evenly matched. At that moment, Jack realized that Lucian would use clues scattered throughout their teachings to find another route to empowerment. He realized that he must beat Lucian to that route, lest Lucian succeed.

Jack had travelled for months, pursued always by Lucian. Now, the end was near. Intuition and a cryptic remark he remembered from the old man had led him to this mine. Lucian could not be far behind. One or the other would prevail. His reverie was broken when he tripped against something. A skeleton—the skull filled with golden teeth. He knelt, and saw the sigil painted on the forehead. Touching the bones, he could feel power flowing into him—the final empowerment!

Jack suddenly heard a tuneless whistling—a habit of Lucian. He stood up and saw Lucian aiming a pistol at him.

“It ends here now! The answer is in this mine and I don’t need you anymore!” snarled Lucian.

“Right on both counts!” said Jack. He waved his hands and in a flash Lucian was unconscious. Jack was the master now.

 

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The Iron Writer Challenge #167 – 2016 Summer Open #4

clown  The Iron Writer Challenge #167

2016 Summer Open Challenge #4

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

  Authors:

SzeTeng Ong, Geoff Gore, Vance Rowe

The Elements:

A Clown

Numbers

A Barn

Rabbit Stew

Hear Their Roar

SzeTeng Ong

The only sound lingering in his ears was the echo of the lions’ roar, the low feral sound undeterred by the fuzzy sound recording. A horn blared to signal the end of the clown’s talk and he shot to his feet, shoving his way out till he was free from the hall’s confines. Afterwards, with the school a speck in the distance behind him, his gaze settled on the clouds trying not to imagine them as lions lying on their side after a good whipping.

~~~

“Didn’t you enjoy the talk at all? You used to love clowns, Jason.”

“That was before I knew how they treated animals,” he muttered, picking at his cutlery restlessly.

Gingerly a bowl was lowered to his placemat. A single sniff of the aroma of the brown substance was all it took to sound the alarm. “Rabbit stew?”

“Only the best!”

“I thought I told you to stop!”

“You will eat whatever I bring to the table or nothing at all,” a low voice spoke, menace burning underneath. He didn’t have to turn around to know that it was him, donning a wolf-skin, still sweating after hunting.

There was no room for argument in his tone and he did not want to feel his father’s wrath. Fist clenched, he spat into the bowl of rabbit stew and slid out of the kitchen with his mother already starting her berating.

~~~

8 mice, 3 pigs, 1 cat, 13 of them.

The 13th was him, greeted by 12 voices welcoming him back to the abandoned barn. They were eager to have their go at prancing in puddles after the light shower before, and the headcount was all the more harder to carry out. He stepped gingerly as thin-tailed bodies scuttled around his feet, while Twelve meowed and wound her tail around his legs. The pigs’ pen was noisy, and he smiled at the game of tag ongoing. After a few minutes the speckled pig scurried out of the barn for her daily walk, drawing from him a smile as he took her place.

~~~

The next day was tense, though the clown had not returned for another talk. He was silent, shifting his attention to the dish she was cooking instead. The pot was bubbling just like yesterday, but the scent was different. “What is this?”

“Pork soup, since you didn’t want rabbit stew?”

Speckled black and white, the pig skin hanging by her side served only as a trigger. His fists clenched and he refused to look up as the pot churned cheerfully.

“How’s the pork?”

As his father strode towards him, he grabbed the pot’s handle, tipping the steaming hot soup over the stove. From behind him his mother yelped but made no move towards the flying liquid. The wolf pelt could only raise an arm to block himself, the boiling soup splashing all over his face and torso.

The howl rang low and long. It lacked the buzzing of a sound recording, but the roar pounded against his skull, urging him away from Fifteen’s dried skin and cooked thighs. Roar still ringing in his ears, he took flight again.

Rabbit Stew

Vance Rowe

The perfume wafted by his nose as he sat at the bar with his drink. He turned and saw a beautiful lady taking the seat next to him.

“Is this seat taken?” she asked with a smile.

“No, it isn’t,” was his simple reply. He then tried to gather the courage to say something to her when the bartender walked over and asked her what she was having.

“A gin and tonic, please.”

“Put that on my tab, Pete.”  The lady thanked him.

“That is an intoxicating perfume. What’s it called?” he asked as he tried to make conversation with the beauty next to him.

“You like it? It’s a new perfume called ‘By the Numbers’. It got rave reviews in the fashion mags so I had to try it.”

When the bartender returned with her drink, he looked at the man and asked, “Another drink, Rabbit?”

The man winced when he heard the bartender call him Rabbit and with a sigh he said, “Yes.”

“Rabbit? There has to be a story there,” the woman said with a smile.

“Yes, I am afraid there is. To make it shorter, I used to be a track star in college and they called me rabbit because I was so quick and sadly, it is one of those names that stick with you.”

“I think it’s cute.”

The man blushed a bit and replied, “Thank you, but I hate it.”

As they nursed their drinks they got to know each other a bit better. When they finished their drinks, the woman asked, “Do you want to go to my place?”

“Yes, I do,” he replied with a smile.

“We’ll take my car and then I will bring you back here later,” the woman offered and the man graciously accepted.

They climbed into her car and they both laughed as a drunk clown staggered up to the car and he knocked on the passenger side window. “Open it and see what he wants,” she said with a chuckle. The man opened the window and the woman said, “Hey, clown. This is Rabbit.”

“Good-night, Rabbit,” the clown replied with and squirted a liquid from the flower on his lapel into the man’s face and he passed out. The woman then went through the man’s pockets and found his car keys. She handed them to the clown and then she drove off with the unconscious man. She drove to a diner that had a huge barn out behind it and drove up to the barn. The clown followed them in the man’s car and he dragged the unconscious man from the car, stripped his clothes off and she went through the pockets. He tied the man to a table and began sharpening his knives.

The next day a truck driver walked into the diner and asked the cook what the special is today. The cook chuckled and replied, “Rabbit Stew.”

Just NumbersGeoff Gore

Geoff Gore

“What the hell happened back there?”

I look across to the driver’s seat. The clown’s red rimmed eyes are focused on the road ahead. He says nothing, instead brutally jerking the gear stick, taking a sharp left before slamming an oversized foot sharply down to the floor. The car shudders in protest but takes the corner and once again accelerates.

I watch as the numbers on the dash climb steadily back toward 100.

I was supposed to be the ringmaster, but it’s the clown who’s calling the shots now. I look down at the blood splattered across my blue suit pants. It’s already turning a crusty brown, indistinguishable from the remnants of last night’s rabbit stew. Last night, when we went through the plan one last time. Except…this wasn’t part of the plan.

“This is bad. This is very bad.”

“Shut up!” Barked the clown.

“We need to get this car off the road.”

“We need to get to the hideout, like we planned.”

“Like we planned? What the hell happened to ‘like we planned’ when you decided to turn the bank lobby into a war zone?”

“The disguises have been good up until now aint they? How was I supposed to know that woman would have a clown phobia?”

“You didn’t have to fire! We agreed, the guns were for show. I didn’t even know yours as loaded.”

“What was I supposed to do?”

“Well not kill her for a start!”

“She was screaming the place down. When people scream at me I get jumpy, okay?

“You shot a woman and her child for God’s sake!”

There was a long silence before the clown spoke again. “We’ll be okay.”

We’ll be okay? What about that lady and her kid?”

“What can I say? Mistakes were made. Son, let me give you some advice, if you wanna survive in this game you gotta try not to think about it too hard.”

“I want out. I want no further part in this. I can still see the kid’s face!”

“Don’t think about their faces, otherwise you’ll go insane. They were collateral damage. Just numbers. Granted, you gotta try and keep those numbers down, but its numbers, that’s all.”

We’re on the open road now. The clown starts to relax a little. One hand leaves the steering wheel and fumbles around for something inside his oversized tunic.

“We’re nearly there,” he announces.

Ahead looms the abandoned barn. We slow to a halt and the clown looks across from behind the steering wheel. “You sure you still want out?”

I steel a glance back at the two sacks of cash lying across the back seat, but all I can see are the faces again. Eventually I just nod.

“That’s too bad.” He pulls the Glock from his tunic and points it directly at my head. “But then again two hundred grand goes a whole lot further when you don’t have to split it in two.”

“What?”

“Don’t take it personally. It’s just numbers.”

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