The Iron Writer Challenge #162 – 2016 Spring Solstice Open, Preliminary Round, This Bracket

balloonfest

The Iron Writer Challenge #162

2016 Spring Solstice Open, Preliminary Round

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Brackets/Authors: 

This Bracket

Tina Biscuit, Vance Rowe, Dani J. Caile, Malissa Greenwood

The Elements:

A Sky balloon festival

Trash talk

Hot Dogs

A Bow and a single arrow

Hot Dogs and Hatred

Malissa Greenwood

Eric balanced a plate of hot dogs and chips in one hand, a soda and magazine in the other as he weaved through the crowd of other hot air balloon aficionados. It was the first day of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta – the morning rides had gone smoothly and now they were meant to relax and participate in festivities until the evening challenges commenced. Eric was starting to feel confident about his balloon this year, though the doubts were always there.

Last year he was sure he’d win the Accuracy Competition but a rather unfortunate group of birds found their way into his envelope resulting in one panicked, poop covered human and a few dead birds. Eric had felt shaken and disappointed. Word spread quickly and by the end of the day he was the butt of many jokes, most of which originated from Rob Scheele. Eric hated that guy.

But this was a new year; a new chance to get back in the game and prove that he was a great ballooner.

Eric found an empty spot at one of the many crowded picnic tables and squeezed in, smiling and nodding at the other occupants. He had brought the magazine to avoid small talk, lest he introduce himself and be remembered as the poop covered bird killer.

As Eric finished his second hot dog a roar of laughter erupted behind him and he knew instinctively that he was about to be annoyed. He was opening the chip packet when someone knocked into him, sending the contents flying.

“Oh hey, sorry bud.” A familiar voice. Eric turned to see Rob Scheele with an ape-like grin plastered to his face, surrounded by several other obnoxious looking men.

Eric attempted to simply nod and turn back around to no avail. “Eric Manning! Well, how are you bud?! Surprised to see you back this year.”

“Surprised? Well. I’m back, same as you.”

“Well hell, of course I’M back. I’ve got a record to keep after all!” The table laughed in agreement, a few men whooping their support. “But you… after that unfortunate event last year… we thought you’d be out of the game by now. Leave the sport to the real men, ya know?”

Eric listened to the callous laughter behind him and tried to remain calm. He had never mastered the art of talking trash. Usually he just listened to it and thought about all the things he’d rather do. While Rob sat there telling the bird story to anyone who would listen, Eric began picturing all the ways he could hurt the bastard. Set his balloon on fire. Hire someone to push him out of his own basket. I could shoot him. Not with a gun per say… I’ve got my archery equiptment in the car; all it would take is a single arrow. No one would know it was me. I’d say I –

His thoughts were cut short by a slap on the shoulder. “Oh don’t fret there, bud. Things couldn’t possibly get any worse for ya.”

But all Eric could think was well they could certainly get worse for you “bud”.

Festival Scare

Vance Rowe

The air was thick with cigarette smoke and the smell of stale beer permeated the air as the bartender announced last call. There were just a handful of people left in the bar and the bartender was lad it was time to close. The bar was very busy tonight as it was every year at this time. It was the weekend of the hot air balloon festival and it gets bigger every year.

Only a handful remained in the bar and a couple of them watched the goings on at a table where four men were seated. They were drunk, loud, and boisterous. Two of the men were trash talking each other while the other two men laughed and egged them on.

“Frank, after tomorrow, you will be going back to flying kites,” one of the men said to the other.

“You talk a lot of crap for someone who can’t get his balloon up even if the fire is fueled with Viagra, Victor.” the other man retorted. The trash talk and raucous behavior continued for a half hour more until the bartender finally kicked them out.

The next morning, the old airport where the balloon festival is taking place began to come alive. Food and souvenir vendors began to set up, balloonists made final checks on their equipment, local radio and television news outlets set up at various places and hundreds of spectators began to arrive and mill about. The organizers of the event set up their tables with various trophies, medals and awards placed on them. There is even a hot dog eating contest about to take place as well. There is definitely a sensory overload today with all of the things to see, hear, smell, touch, and taste.

When it was time for the balloonists to get ready, Frank went to his balloon and found a bunch of kites inside of it. He growled with anger as Victor howled with delight. Frank then walked to his truck as Victor fired up his balloon and began to rise in the air, still laughing.

However, Victor stopped laughing as he watched Frank pull a bow and a single arrow from his truck.

Dragged Away on Unseen Strings of Universal ElasticityDani-J-Caile

Dani J Caile

A bow and its single arrow aimed directly at my soul scratches my sweating skin, leaving the scar that never healed, cutting through to my aching lust until my boiling blood turned to streams of thick, diseased desire: the pain reached the bubbling marrow within my crumbling bones, a gratification of the reason above any ever felt or will again.

“I am the best: you will never know better, I will defeat your pathetic, yearning narcissism and discard your empty, lifeless bag of flesh dripping through the splintered cracks of your spirit.”

“Please, do not leave me like this, I beg you…”

Through the void of vitality, the upside-down vision of droplets on the shattered pane reflecting the waking dawn light, a prism of colours, a festival of hot air balloons dragged away on unseen strings of universal elasticity, induces the affliction of the night before, a thousand years ago, to flood and muddle my mind, sending me into fits of self-reflection and inanimateness.

“You are nothing but a worm! I will rip you apart, scoop out all remnants of essence and substance, leaving but a shattered shell of monstrosity!”

“Do it! Do it! Without this, what is there? What is there!”

Steps in the street, spaces squeezed between coats, faces hidden by hoods and ‘brellas. The pinball machine: it issues forth and fades as the headless crowds wither and die, leaving me beaten, soaked, alone, standing in a barren city of shadows playing dodgems with hearts, spinning in the delight of paper and lights, making the meaningless worthwhile, ignoring the truth seeping from their veins, slipping past shallow attention and repressed awareness. Cheap hot dogs without buns.

“When… when…?”

“Why?”

The wind cuts through, I sense its edge but not its force: to feel is a luxury no longer pertaining to the carcase which is my form, disfigured and maimed by my foolish naivety, my broken impeccability. Blank. Squeezed, crushed, hope shone, only to be trodden in the last moments of opportunity, tiny fragments burning, incinerating under the pressure of power, the affliction of humanity, a monster rampant. Any purpose has been lost, gone with the last tick of time, the next, the now.

“Never, never again! How dare you, how dare you! Pig! Nothing but a pig! I am a god, you are nothing!”

“Once… once more…”

Clouds turn grey, a soothing blanket washing through the foul stain of intelligentsia, conquering the obnoxious academia of meaningless knowledge and bigotry of the supreme.

“Come! Follow me to your doom! Follow! Now!”

“Yes! Yes, I will follow! Only lead, please! Please lead!”

Darkness. Silence. From the nothing of the murky depths comes the incomparable. Optimism is born a myth, confidence its dumb cousin. The box is opened. Faith has flown with the chariots of Charlatopia and rested amongst the flocks of the blessed. To love? To live? Again, again, the stone it rolls, tearing, cutting, persistantly pushing against the slate of conscience and duty.

Punished for trying… for caring? Punished.

Bodkin Brothers

Tina Biscuit

Ian’s bow was slung tightly across his back. Douglas crawled behind him; he had the quiver. Ian raised a hand; they both stopped. They nestled into the heather; Douglas winced as it scratched his arms. They dropped flat, slowly raising their heads to look down the cliff. The balloons were already rising close to the boys. A crimson sphere of silk appeared below them; in a few seconds, the people in the basket would see them. They pressed themselves down deeper. The balloon rose, but the people were looking down at the hot-air-balloon festival: watching the other balloons; looking to see if they could see their friends.

‘I love hot dogs’, Douglas exclaimed.

‘What are you talking about, Douglas?’

‘There’s a hot dog stand.’

‘You can’t make out a hot-dog from here, idiot.’

‘I can see that one.’ He pointed down at a hut, with a huge fibreglass hot-dog on the roof.

‘Can we get one, Douglas? Please.’

‘We can’t walk in there with our weapons.’

‘You always treat me like an idiot, Ian. I meant just one of us go.’

‘You are an idiot, Ian. I don’t know why mum always makes me take you with me. Oh, yeah; it’s because you’re my wee brother, and I’m responsible for you.’

‘You’re hardly ­responsible. Firing arrows at hot-air-balloons. Very responsible.’

‘Shut it, small fry. And I’m not going to do it, Douglas. I just want to point one at Mr Sutherland to give him a fright.’

They watched the balloons rising; they knew that Mr Sutherland had a bright yellow one. Ian’s stomach started to rumble.

‘You’re hungry, too, Ian. Now you have to go.’

‘I don’t have to go, but I will.’

‘Thanks, Ian.’

Ian slipped the curved piece of Yew from his back, and passed it to Douglas, before snatching it back out of his grasp.

‘Don’t use it’, he said.

‘You’re always slagging me that I’m too much of a weakling to fire a bow. Please, Ian. I know dad gave you some money.’

‘Alright’, conceded Ian, ‘I’ll be twenty minutes; keep an eye out for Mr Sutherland; I’m still going to do it.’

Douglas waited until Ian dipped below the rise. He could smell the cedar of the arrows’ shafts as the breeze came over him. He reached behind him, teased his fingers through the fletching, before unsheathing a single arrow. The Bodkin point glinted as he revolved it in his fingers. A huge, yellow sun appeared in front of him.

Douglas grasped the bow. The yellow balloon rose as he nocked the arrow in the string, and started to pull. The bow yielded as he strained to pull it taut. He breathed slowly, just like Ian. Mr Sutherland was so close, he could see Douglas. His face contorted. The muscles in Douglas’s arm started to twitch under the strain. The string slipped slowly from his youthful grip. The bow buckled as the string was released. The point travelled straight, while the shaft twisted and contorted into its paradoxical flight.

A cry rang out, echoing around the cliffs. Two hands rose; two hot-dogs fell into the heather.

#TIWC members, please vote here.

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

balloonfest

The Iron Writer Challenge #162

2016 Spring Solstice Open, Preliminary Round

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Brackets/Authors:

They’re Bracket

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

The Elements:

A Sky balloon festival

Trash talk

Hot Dogs

A Bow and a single arrow

The Invasionemmy-gatrell

Emmy Gatrell

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

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

“I don’t work on Saturday’s.”

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

“My job is keeping this family afloat.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We’re talking about our mother.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who’s trying to get over what wall?”

“The Mexicans,” she whispered dramatically.

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

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

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

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

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

“Hot dogs again?”

He shrugged, “Yep.”

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

And Then One DayRichard Russell

Richard Russell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jack nonchalantly replied, “Gimme a cheese burger.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Jack.”

“Nice to meet you, Jack.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vengeance is the Judge’sMichael Pitman

M. D. Pitman

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

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

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

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

Peter stifled that laughter when he pulled out a bow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And you’re a judge?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Momma Wants a Balloon

Lee Cox

D. Lee Cox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The All-State Regional Championship?”

“Thats the one, by jiminy!”

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

Maynard pursed his lips. Let out a breath.

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

“Eighty seven.”

“You were born in 1927.”

“Twenty nine, it was a typo”

A long sigh.

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

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

“I… I beg your pardon?”

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

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

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

“You want $250 thousand dollars for what?”

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

“Terrell Sturdivent? I thought he was dead.”

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

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

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

“Ma’am…”

“NOW SON!”

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The Iron Writer Challenge #162 – 2016 Spring Solstice Open, Preliminary Round, There Bracket

balloonfest

The Iron Writer Challenge #162

2016 Spring Solstice Open, Preliminary Round

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Brackets/Authors:

There Bracket

C. S. E. Greenberg, Peter Lusher, Jennie Richmond

The Elements:

A Sky balloon festival

Trash talk

Hot Dogs

A Bow and a single arrow

One ShotJennie Richmond

Jennie Richmond 

Shirley Knott shivered, pulling her coat closer around her small frame as she watched the hot air balloons float gently in the sky for the annual festival – bright colours against a cloudy grey background. The aroma of hotdogs and donuts wafted across to her from the food van. She turned away. She’d been nauseous a lot recently, lost a lot of weight. She was always so tired, too. She knew she was dying. The chemotherapy hadn’t worked, the tumours had ravaged through her system causing all sorts of problems. Realistically, she had a week left at most. She didn’t particularly want to be here, but it was making her family happy, so she smiled and turned to watch some of the activities going on around her to distract her from her morbid thoughts.

“Nanna! Daddy entered the archery competition; can we go and watch him?”

Shirley nodded and smiled, wrinkles lining her face, and took the child’s hand. They walked slowly over together. Her son, Graham, had already shot 4 arrows. All of them had found the target – 2 piercing the blue section, 1 a red, and 1 a yellow.

“Just one arrow left, Graham!” the organiser, also serving as the judge. “You need another yellow, otherwise John stays in the lead.”

“Oh we all know Graham won’t hit the centre again. Beginner’s luck, that’s all!” A tanned, lanky man with unruly hair crowed.

“None of your trash talk, John. Let the man concentrate.” chided the judge.

Graham was ignoring both of them. He lifted the bow and pulled back the string, feeling the growing tension. Ensuring the arrow was exactly on the nocking point, he let it fire. It flew through the air with a swift grace, plunging precisely into the centre of the board. He grinned. John scowled.

A scattered applause broke out from the small crowd that had gathered to watch, led enthusiastically by Shirley and her granddaughter, Marie, and Graham took a mock bow before walking over to join them. Instantly, his look of triumph was replaced by concern.

“Are you alright, mum?”

“I’ll be fine, love. Just need a sit down, is all.” In truth, Shirley was beginning to feel a little breathless and lightheaded.

“Of course, can you make it to this bench over here? Marie, go find mummy.”

Wide eyed, the little girl ran off towards the craft stalls, and he assisted his mother to sit down, Shirley leaning on him a little more with every step. She slumped onto the bench, wheezing. Her chest was beginning to feel tight, her breathing becoming noisy. There was a distinct rattling sound with every breath that Graham hadn’t noticed earlier – had it been happening long?

“Mum? Mum!” the panic in his voice was evident now. Shirley eyes had glazed over, mouth slightly agape – she was staring at something, but didn’t seem to be aware of her son anymore. She slouched further to the side, all of her weight now resting against Graham. He just knew.

“Mum it’s… it’s okay. I’m here. I love you.”

He held her hand in his and watched the light leave her eyes.

Balloons at Eighty PacesPeter Lusher

Peter Lusher

“The archery competition at the 5th annual Midwest Medieval games will be concluded in a sudden death shoot out!”, the announcer bellowed through the P.A. System at the Indiana State Fair-Grounds.  “Our final two shooters are William Granprix and Robin Lepich.  Our sharp-eyed sharp-shooters will have one arrow a piece,” he continued waving an arm at the range, “first at the mark will be Robin Lepich.”  Lepich with his family and friends watching on, leading the cheer from the stands stepped to the line, drew, and loosed his arrow down range, hitting the target in the bull’s-eye.  “My goodness! Folks that is a magnificent shot!  Even our fair William will have a tough way to beat that marksmanship.”  And so did William Grandprix step to the line.  All eyes were on the lone arrow in his hand.  They watched it draw back.  This single arrow would determine a bout that had lasted three days between the men.  Ending the trash talk between them, and their families, determining once and for this year who really was the best with a long bow.  William loosed and the single arrow flew down range.

A few months later the Grandprixs and the Lepiches were in Brooklyn, to cheer on and talk trash about the others’ family.  The families were competing in Nathan’s Annual Hot Dog Eating contest.  The competition only a few hours old had already inspired quite a lot of lines about your mother this, and your auntie that.  The Lepiches reminding the Grandprixs that no one could possibly be hungrier than they.  The Grandprixs suggesting that the Lepiches never had the intestinal fortitude to handle what was going to happen, and that if anything maybe they should instead be in an air breathing contest.  That the father couldn’t shoot and the family wasn’t hungry enough.  The Lepiches promised to show them.

“Welcome to the tulip fields, William.”  Robin Lepich remarked upon seeing William Grandprix.  “Are you hear for the race?  To get beaten just as thouroughly as your family did at Nathan’s?”

“By no means, Lepich.  We are here to enjoy the tulips and the hot air balloon festival.”  Grandprix responded.

“Well.  We are competing.”  Lepich said.

“Well have fun, maybe you’re better at flying than you are at shooting, or your sons at eating.”  William remarked.  “Trivet’s balloon festival is a big deal to win, hopefully the ladies won’t carry the team again and you can have a little glory.”

The men parted ways, looking back at each other only rarely.  

It wasn’t until later in the day, when the  men caught sought of their children walking arm in arm did they speak.

“Your family dishonors mine, Lepich.”

“And what do you think they are doing to mine, Grandprix?!”

“I propose we settle this like men.”

“A duel?”

“A balloon duel.”

“Fine.”

So the men found two ballooners to act as their seconds and reconvened to agree to terms, which were, a blunderbuss, balloons spaced at 80 paces and sent aloft to 100 yards, there to shoot at the other man’s balloon until a victor, and the end of talk were decided.

An Arrow for a Hot Dog

C. S. E. Greenberg

The hot dog glistened, nestled in puffy bun. Bits of beef, surrounded by reddish brown chili, topped with bright yellow cheese, and peppered with jalapeno slices. I bit down, enjoying the blend of flavors as they floated across my tastebuds.

The Balloon and Airship Festival continued around me, voices of passersby and hawkers blending in an indistinguishable meld. Floaters traveled in packs; their affiliation recognizable by checkered bandanas, patterns mimicking the balloons of their gangs. Empty quivers hung on their backs; no gang would break the festival peace. A bright yellow, blue, and emerald checkered pattern passed me; The Floating Fancies had arrived. I hastily swallowed to check their quivers. Their leader, towering over me, gave me a glance that would have sizzled bacon, but made no remark. They had been beefing with the Basket Burners of late. One of the Floating Fancies had even threatened to puncture the airship of the head of the Basket Burners, an act which would cause gang war to rage across the sky. The Marshals of the Sharp had strict orders to give both gangs extra attention, and it would have been just my luck that a ranking Wind would have passed by and seen if I hadn’t properly checked their quivers. The Winds of the order would not hesitate cutting me loose if they thought I wasn’t holding my weight.

A roaming Burner walked by just afterwards, his uniform a bright patchwork design of blue, white and red. His bright blue bow was strung and secured on his back, resting against his scarlet quiver filled with the required ten arrows. He nodded at me as he passed, his eyes continually scanning the crowd, looking for small knives, pins, even sharpened belt buckles. After he strolled by, I sighed. I looked down at the dull patchwork of faded colors I wore. Ballast were the bottom of the basket, disposable at need. We weren’t given anything that wasn’t imperfect or used; clothing discarded by older, more respected Baskets or Burners, food that was overcooked or stale.

I clutched my hotdog greedily and took another large bite, savoring the flavor. Near the balloonfield, I noticed a clutch of Basket Burners drifting near the Floating Fancies section. One of the Basket Burners quickly pulled the bow off of his back, and yanked a bright red arrow from beneath his tunic. He quickly lit a rag and tied it to the arrow. He pulled the string back, aimed towards the top of the Floating Fancies’ sole airship… and fired. The arrow whizzed through the air, crimson in the sun, until it hit the airship…. And exploded.

I’d always suspected that the Floating Fancies used a hydrogen mix. 

Shreds of fabric streamed from the sky like confetti. All the other Marshalls ran towards the scene, freeing bows from their back, trying to stem the coming violence before it washed over them like a wave.

Not I. I sat next to my booth, savoring another bite of that perfect hotdog, my patchwork clothes littered with bright cloth shreds, nine scarlet fletchings protruding over my shoulder from the quiver on my back.

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