The Iron Writer Challenge #162
2016 Spring Solstice Open, Preliminary Round
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
C. S. E. Greenberg, Peter Lusher, Jennie Richmond
A Sky balloon festival
A Bow and a single arrow
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 Paces
“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 balloon duel.”
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.