The Iron Writer Challenge #162
2016 Spring Solstice Open, Preliminary Round
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
Tina Biscuit, Vance Rowe, Dani J. Caile, Malissa Greenwood
A Sky balloon festival
A Bow and a single arrow
Hot Dogs and Hatred
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”.
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 Elasticity
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.
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.
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.’
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.