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, Richard North Patterson Bracket

The Iron Writer Challenge #177

2016 Autumn Equinox Challenge Championship

Preliminary Round

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

 The Elements:

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

The Brackets:

richardnorthpatterson

Richard North Patterson Bracket

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

Deserted Life with StarsMamie Pound

Mamie Pound

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

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

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

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

He shook his head. “Donna’s great.”

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

“You okay?”

“I’m bored out of my mind,” she said.

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

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

He looked at her.

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

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

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

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

The sixth grade teacher approached.

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

Rob rolled his eyes.

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

“Sure,” Nancy said, chugged the coffee.

The teacher walked away.

“Are you kidding me?” Rob said.

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

“It was in the catering order.”

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

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

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

“Kind of risky,” he said.

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

“I need the insurance.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah,” he said.

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

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

BuddyGeoff Gore

Geoff Gore

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

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

*****

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

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

Disability

Philip Blaiklock

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

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

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

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

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

“Who … who are you?”

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

“So what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mind your business.”

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

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

“What?”

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

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

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

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

Boxcar FortyAlis Van Doorn

Alis Van Doorn

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

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

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

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

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

“Quiet Finn!”

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

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

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

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

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

“Finley William Smith, Sir.”

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

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

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

“And your name?”

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

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

“Fortescue William Smith.” mumbled Forty.

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

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

“I see.” said William quietly.

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

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

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

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

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

Fortescue and Finley William Smith howled with happiness.

#TIWC members, please vote here.

The Iron Writer Challenge #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.

 

#TIWC members, please vote here.