The Iron Writer Challenge #119 – The 2015 Summer Solstice Finals

The Iron Writer Challenge #119

The 2015 Summer Solstice Finals

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements 

Challenge #118

The 2015 Summer Solstice Preliminary Champions

Kara Kahnke, Daniel J. Sanz, Mathew W. Weaver

The Elements:

A Hapi drum

A strange, odd spirit takes you to the past and the future where you meet your successful self and your failed self at the same time

A paper crown

Survivors guilt

Sweet WilliamKara Ann

Kara Kahnke

Julia sprinkled pink petals on her husband’s grave. She tried hearing echoes of his guitar strings that bound him to her rather than the sickening crunch of glass and metal that stole him. One month earlier, she insisted on eating wings at the place where they fell in love. On their way home, a drunk driver slammed into William’s side of the car. He died. She emerged unharmed, living with the guilt of life.

The flowers were called Sweet William. “I’ll always bring Sweet William to you,” William said each spring when he delivered bouquets to her. “That way, you’ll never forget me.” The flowers she carried to his grave were this spring’s last. Next year’s flowers wouldn’t be the same without him. She feared she’d begin to forget the way her harmonica blended with his guitar, or the way his sapphire blue eyes warmed her heart.

Suddenly, an old woman materialized on the grass before her. “You have such sad eyes,” the woman’s raspy voice remarked. “Take my hand.” Before Julia could reply, the woman’s gnarled fingers curled around hers.

#

Julia and the woman flew into the sky. They arrived at Henry’s Wings. The woman raised a crooked finger to her lips, motioning silence. Julia gasped, noticing herself with her husband four years ago. She couldn’t comprehend this sorcery, but chose not to question the gift of William’s presence. She gazed at his dimples remembering her failure. They had tried to study Chemistry together, but she studied the curve of his smile and earned a D on the midterm.

#

The woman squeezed Julia’s hand. They flew to the library where she watched William quiz her on molecules for their final. He never failed. That time, neither did she. They succeeded together. Now, she was supposed to go to medical school. How could she? She couldn’t protect William. She couldn’t protect anyone.

#

With another squeeze, they landed on the street outside Henry’s Wings. The chill in the air signified a future day. Julia noticed herself tapping a tiny steel drum and wearing the red apron of Henry’s Wings’ employees. Is this all I am without sweet William, she thought. The lonely twang of steel resounded through the night. She’d seen the Hapi drum online, and thought about ordering one. She thought the ringing notes could cure her ache for William’s guitar, but the twangs sounded like sobs.

They continued down the street, seeing a small boy with downcast eyes. “My mother’s always sad. I’m always sad,” the boy said to no one.

Julia opened her mouth, but remembered she wasn’t allowed to speak.  They flew again.

#

Now, the boy’s happy eyes faced her. She knew one other person possessed those blue eyes. The boy wore a paper crown. He grabbed her white doctor’s coat. “Mommy!” he squealed to her future self, “Look what we made at school! I’m a prince!

She heard herself say, “Yes, my sweet William!”

Tears rolled down her cheeks as she watched the scene. She thought, I’ll carry and protect our sweet William, darling. And I’ll never forget you. 

ChoicesMathew W Weaver

Mathew W. Weaver

I looked so young. And so, so very sad.

In one corner of the gym, I sat alone, a yellow paper crown on my head, a picture of utter misery. My friends had given up calling me to dance along with the rest of the partying animals.

I remembered. I’d barely made the cut to transfer out of that crapped up school, but Nate, who’d been dreaming of getting out all his life, hadn’t made it.

I was leaving, and he who should have been with me was still stuck back here. It wasn’t fair.

I walked up to myself and sat down, careful not to make physical contact. Like the rest of them, he couldn’t see me; and even if he had, the survivor’s guilt was so strong, I doubted he’d have noticed me, let alone recognize himself from the future.

“Hey,” I said, “Dude, it gets better. I know I thought I was a screw up back then. But I grow up, I get a job, I publish novels, man. And I fall in love. It gets so much better. You aren’t the failure you think you are. Not by a long shot.”

Time’s up, the voice chimed, The future awaits.

The eerie blue mist-creature was back, hovering just above my right shoulder. I took a last look at myself, turned back to the mist and nodded. The blue light brightened, and the world faded.

The first time it had done that, I’d vanished from my room and landed in the past. This time, I embraced the gas, the feeling of travelling at a hundred miles an hour while standing still.

Light flashed, something crackled, and then the picture came back into focus. This time, I knelt at the center of an immense, luxurious office, one side of which was nothing but glass panes, opening out to soaring skyscrapers just beyond.

Standing by the glass was a man in a rich, navy suit. Even from the back, he gleamed of success and power.

Me.

He can see you if you touch him, the voice reminded me, you can talk to him. Unlike your past self, this will not alter the time stream.

“But why?” I asked again, “Why give me this choice, of all people?”

We shall see.

The same reply it had given me the first time, before it had taken me to the past.

I walked up to myself, and marveled at the specs of gray in my beard. I… he… was staring at the sky, eyes vacant as he… I… silently contemplated something.

I’d be rich, I realized. I’d be standing in this office someday, staring out at that view. And here was my ticket to finding out how.

I reached out.

I swallowed, turned around and walked away.

Why?

“I’d rather find out on my own,” I replied.

Now, I know that the mist entity, didn’t have a face, but I’d have sworn that right then, it was smiling.

You have passed your test

“This was a test? Why?”

The picture began to fade. We were moving again.

“Where to, now?” I asked.

Beyond.

Whitemoon Lounge Daniel J. Sanz

Daniel J. Sanz

Explosions ripped through the Hummer as the blast lifted and spun it broadside into the dirt road.

The scene replayed in Raymond’s head as he sat in the Whitemoon Lounge. The establishment reeked of incense and was empty, save for himself and the young man playing the Hapi steel drum.

“It should have been me,” he said to Shelly, the bartender, dropping another bourbon down his gullet. “Those guys had families…yet I’m the one sitting here. If I dropped dead tomorrow no one would miss me.”

Shelly raised a suspicious brow. “That’s not something you’re planning is it?”

It was almost as if she sensed his despair and the gun under his coat. With eyes down, he nudged the glass.

“One more.”

Shelly paused, then disappeared into the back. She reemerged with a small black decanter. She tipped the strange bottle and an odd blue spirit poured into the shot glass. “House special, it’ll give you the kick you need.”

He leered at it, then shrugged. Barely getting the elixir down the stars hit him. Raymond clamped his eyes shut and gasped. The room spiraled as blood rushed into his ears.

He opened his eyes ready to ream Shelly out, but she was gone. The room took on a grey tone and he turned to the rowdy party to his left. Raymond froze at the sight. Before him was himself, five years younger celebrating the success of Army graduation. He remembered his excitement.

Young Ray returned the shocked gaze, and after a moment asked, “What happened to you…to us?”

So Raymond told him about the war, and how he thought he was fighting for something noble but realized he was just serving a financial empire ruled by false kings in their posh designer suits and paper crowns.

Young Ray thought quietly and then said, “I still intend to serve my country.”

“Even if you end up like me?” Raymond responded.

“Yes Sir. Even if we end up like him.” He nodded his head past Raymond.

Raymond turned to his right and met the old man. He was feeble with empty, faded eyes. Startled, Raymond recognized himself, many years from now. The man slid over a scribbled note.

The attempt failed.

Then he pointed to the gun under Raymond’s coat. Raymond stood horrified and watched as the man pulled out the prosthetic jaw and moaned painfully through his sagging face.

Raymond’s stomach wrenched and felt the blood pull from his brain. The room spun and he fell backwards into blackness.

“Ray! Are you alright?”

Raymond opened his eyes, the lounge had returned back to its earlier empty state. He stood and brushed away the shivers that danced at his arms.

“I… I think so.”

Shelley studied him. “You want another?”

Raymond’s hand brushed over the bulk of the gun. He paused, and then looked at her sincerely.

“No, I think I’ll be OK.”

He placed cash on the bar and made his way towards the door. Before leaving, Raymond looked over his shoulder. “I’ll see you tomorrow Shel.”

With a smirk she replied, “I’m glad to hear that Ray.”

The Iron Writer Challenge 2015 Summer Solstice Preliminary Round, H. A. Rey Bracket

Margret-and-HA-Rey

H. A. Rey

The Authors:

Matthew BarronTony Jaeger,  Kara KahnkeDwight Wade

The Elements:

timeclock

A time clock
Ice cream
A Parachute
Told from POV of an alien on the planet Nibiru, as the Nibiru enters our solar system. 

Nibiru technology is no greater or worse than Earth’s.

The ExperimentDwight Wade

Dwight Wade

The bridge was cold.  Cold even for a Zetan.  Twelve of her sixteen toes had gone numb.  She’d just begun to wonder why the other four hadn’t when the door opened behind her. 

Ker-Chunk

The time clock echoed through the bridge.  She turned off the video screen.  She’d been watching Earth videos, technically frowned upon but sometimes a good way to pass the night shift.

“Morning Danank” a voice called to her.  She turned to see Glartak, his eyes haggard.

“Rough night?” she asked.

“Yeah.”  he replied.  “This cold moved in to my third and fourth lungs last night.”  He slunk into his chair next to her at the navigator’s console.

“What’s that you’re watching” he asked, a sly grin peeking from the corner of his mouth.  

Her pale green skin flushed, darkening slightly. 

“Earth videos.” She confessed.  “They’re always broadcasting all the stupid things they do. This guy got his parachute stuck on some sort of monument somewhere.  Quite silly.”

Glartak smiled.  “We ready to go today?”  He gestured toward the massive rock just outside the ship.  Nicknamed Nibiru by the scientists behind the mission, the rock was actually more of a small moon.  Two massive mechanical arms clung to Nibiru’s exterior, connecting it to their ship.

“Ready to release in ten minutes.”

Nibiru’s massive size would wreak havoc throughout this solar system once released.  Zetan scientists from their home planet did this type of thing from time to time, though the reasoning escaped Danank.  She was just a pilot.  She went where they told her to go.

“All right.  Lets go through the checklist.”

For the next eight minutes Glartak and Danank checked off the final elements of their mission.  Danank looked out at the blue planet, just coming into view, a small, blue/white disc in the center of the screen.

“You ever feel guilty about doing this kind of thing to the slow systems,” she asked her partner.

“Me?  Nah.  I mean it’s not like we don’t warn them.  All they have to do is respond and we’d pick another system.  They aren’t smart enough to reply, so what’s to feel guilty about?  I mean, we gave them twenty of their years to figure it out.  They just wrote the messengers off as crackpots.  A little bit of apocalypse should do them good.”

“Yeah, I guess so.  The advance team picked the messengers up right?”

Blartak nodded.  “Yeah.  Last week I think.  They were a bit surprised to say the least.”

Danank returned her gazed to the viewscreen.  “OK, release in three, two, one.”  She pushed the big red button.  There was an audible clank as the arms released their cargo.  

Nibiru drifted slowly away.  Drifted towards the small, blue/white disc.

Blartak stretched and turned to Danank.  “Hey, this Earth place may not have been big on intelligence, but the advance team picked up some new food on planet.  Has a terrible name, but it tastes great.  Want to go try some?”

“What’s it called?”

“Eyes Scream,” Blartak answered. “Can you believe that?  What a bunch of weirdos.”

Danank laughed. 

“Well, not for long.”

How Ice Cream Saved the WorldKara Ann

Kara Kahnke

“Silly humans,” the alien Leroy thought to himself. “They’re always getting the math wrong. They are so convinced that my planet Nibiru is going to destroy them, but they forgot to carry a one. In reality, our orbits are going to line up just long enough for me to visit Earth. My superiors have made it my responsibility to introduce a virus to destroy humanity if I believe they are worthy of destruction.  Then we can take over their puny planet.  My people believe our planets are similar, so Earth may be the perfect planet to occupy. In fact, our orbits are going to be so close, I can use this parachute to touch down. I just need to wait for the end of my shift at Tasty Burger.”

The orbits were due to line up at exactly 1:40. Leroy punched out on the Tasty Burger time clock as he slipped the parachute straps over his shoulders and jumped. 

He landed in the grass next to a small neighborhood street. Just then, he heard the most beautiful music. It sounded like tiny jingle bells, but he cowered in fright at the large rumble that followed. He watched as tiny beings followed the large truck.

“Ice cream! Ice cream!” they shouted.

Leroy decided to creep closer to investigate. Just then, one of the tiniest ones with blonde hair and freckles ran from the truck carrying something on a stick.  He saw Leroy and ran over to him. “Want a bite?” the tiny being said.

Leroy was the same size as this being, so it must have decided to befriend him. Leroy decided to take the offering for research. He took a tiny bite. The outer brown shell crunched to reveal something cool and sweet. “This is delicious!” Leroy said.

“Yes, chocolate covered vanilla ice cream is my favorite and Mommy says it’s nice to share our favorite things,” the little being said.

“Thank you,” said Leroy

Just then, Leroy noticed that the being was carrying something else. “Want to play with my pogo stick?” it said.

It hopped on some kind of stick and began bouncing up and down high in the air. It reminded Leroy of bouncing weightlessly through space. Eventually, the little one offered him a turn. Leroy bounced on the pogo stick and felt like he was bouncing to the sky. He felt an intense joy. “Surely this tiny being represents others on this planet,” thought Leroy. He knew that they didn’t deserve to be destroyed. He hugged the little one as he asked for another bite of ice cream.

God of WarTony Jaeger

Tony Jaeger

Way out west there was this guy, a guy named Clint Bradford. This Bradford guy called himself “The Old Man.” Now, the thing about the Old Man is that sometimes there’s a man just right for his time and place. That ain’t always a good thing, mind, but well, he just kind of fit in there right when people needed something done. Clint wasn’t no Timeclock Soldier either, no sir; he didn’t just do his four years and get out. There are some that claim that he was enlisted in the army as soon as he was born, others say that he wasn’t born, but was a robot created by the army. Proves there are idiots no matter what planet you’re from, but… ah, I lost my train of thought there. 

*  *  *  *  *

Two hundred paratroopers had just flung themselves out of the bomb bay of the aircraft, followed by two armored vehicles that would carry them fifty miles north to the village of Kami. It had always struck him odd how quiet the vacant belly of an aircraft flying at two hundred miles per hour with the back end opened is. It seemed to him there should be more wind. 

“Two minutes to drop point,” the pilot radioed. 

Clint reached down into the specially-installed cooler and grabbed an ice cream cone – the kind with the frozen chocolate lump at the bottom. He unwrapped it and licked the ice cream, remembering himself as child making vrooming sounds and dreaming of the day he would grow up to be an airplane. The Old Man bit the chocolate core off the cone and sighed with bitter pleasure. He stood, feeling none of the claims of his moniker. He tossed the ice cream cone out of the bomb bay doors and jumped out after it. 

As quiet as the inside of the plane had felt, falling with nothing about him but air sounded like the void. Not even the snap of the Old Man’s parachute made much noise, which was a real shame. In the village of Kami below, nobody received any warning that he was coming, they had no reason to believe that an army would grind the town into the dirt come dawn, no reason at all to believe that Clint would bathe the town in the blood of its residents before that. 

Cloaked in the dim light of the second sun Clint slipped from house to house, silently slitting throats and manually choking the life from those unfortunate enough to have wanted a glass of water or answer nature’s call. 

In the silent moments before he started lighting fires Clint stared upward at the second sun, and accepted it not as a natural phenomenon but as an omen. Destruction was coming. The Old Man then thanked his lucky stars that the residents of Kami weren’t superstitious, and set work to burning it to the ground. After all, who’s to say an army invaded a place that is no longer there?

God of DestructionMatthew Barron

Matthew Barron

I cradled my bag of food and made my way around the legs of the Earth worshipers. They ignored me, chanting at the blue orb which dominated the sky. Earth worshippers came from all walks of life, but none of them clocked into work that day. They believed the growing orb was a god of destruction, but I knew better.

The barn was a simple building and had survived the increasing earthquake activity. Captain Carter was still inside where I had left him.  He was using his parachute as a pillow and had strapped a broom handle to his broken leg to keep it straight.  Carter devoured my gifts and finished by consuming the whole carton of ice cream. I’d managed to teach him a few simple phrases, and he gave an awkward, “Thank you.” 

A real live alien, and he was all mine! 

Carter used a hoe as a crutch and hobbled out the door. I urged him to rest, but he ignored me. “Ship?” he said.  

I pointed west where his rocket had disappeared.  What could I do but follow him? Part of me hoped one of the neighbor kids would see us. They wouldn’t pick on me any more once they saw my special friend.

Carter’s craft was a pointed cone deeply embedded in the dirt.  Imagine trying to journey to a magnetic planet in a metal ship!  These Earth people were not geniuses and definitely not gods.

My alien crouched in a shallow ridge. Soldiers came and went like ants. There was no way Carter could get close without being seen, not with his broken leg.  

Carter drew symbols on the ground and pushed three of them, then pointed at his rocket and repeated the process, hitting the symbols in the same order.  

I understood and made my way for the rocket.  Small as I was, the soldiers ignored me until I got to the hatch.  They shouted as I climbed in.  It took several seconds before I found a control panel with the symbols Carter had drawn.  I clicked the symbols: 1, 2—

A soldier grabbed my hand. “Kid, you almost destroyed us all! This rocket is a bomb strong enough to blow Nabiru out of its orbit, killing us all in the process.”

“Why would anyone want to destroy Nabiru?”

“Nabiru is causing havoc for the earth people, even worse than the earthquakes here. The only way for their civilization to survive is to destroy us.”

For a moment, I felt bad for the earth people, but then I realized how Carter had used me. I’d almost destroyed my entire planet!  Carter was no better than the neighborhood bullies. I pointed to the ridge where he hid.  Carter couldn’t run and was easily captured.  I scowled as they trucked him away.  He was no longer my alien. Carter, possibly the last of his kind, belonged to all Nabiru. When our planets crossed orbits, all traces of civilization were wiped from the blue orb.  

Good riddance.

Reporters started calling for interviews. I became famous and no one ever picked on me again.

The Iron Writer Challenge #107

The Iron Writer Challenge #107

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements 

Challenge 106 Champion

Tina Biscuit

The Authors:

Kara Kahnke, Mamie Pound, Vance Rowe, Daniel J. Sanz, Ellen Howard Attar

Judging:

Each story is scored by a panel of Iron Writers

based on three categories:

(Grammar/Spelling, Use of Elements, Story Arc/Plot)

The popular vote is the tie breaker (SO VOTE!).

The Elements:

'Challenge 107 March 19, 2015<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
First Challenge for the 2015 Summer Open</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>Writers please note: As I will be on vacation when the submissions need posting, please use Facebook to send your stories to me. I suspect it will be easier than trying to access my email on the road (long story, but accessing my email on my iPad is tortuous). </p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>Also, please comment or like this post so I know you have received the elements and will be participating. Thanks</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>Writers: @[1375160699:2048:Kara Ann], @[1619662900:2048:Mamie Willoughby Pound], @[1370498536:2048:Vance Rowe] (again? Okay by me but two in a row?), @[697063044:2048:Daniel J. Sanz] and  @[1605463911:2048:Ellen Howard Attar].</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>@[100000792336166:2048:Ian] is handling the judges henceforth.</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>The elements:</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>The Tiger Next Monastery (see image)<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
An imponderable question (such as, but not this one: Can God make a object too heavy for him to lift?)<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
A debutante<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
The person who cleans public restrooms'
The Tiger Next Monastery
An imponderable question (such as, but not this one:
Can God make a object too heavy for him to lift?)
A débutante
The person who cleans public restrooms

Go DeeperKara Ann

Kara Kahnke

Feed the mosquitoes with me,” he said.

Excuse me?” she said. “What do you mean?”

I mean I’m Buddhist. I believe even the tiniest creatures deserve love and attention, even the ones people find annoying. I don’t kill mosquitoes. I feed them.”

You’re crazy.”

What? Do you think you’re some kind of spoiled débutante parading around waiting for the world to adore her? You don’t have the time for someone or something worse off than yourself?”

Hey! That’s not fair. Yesterday, I gave a homeless guy money to buy a sandwich.”

I’m sorry. That true. I did see you do that. I’m just saying you can always go deeper with things. Buddhists believe there’s nothing too demeaning if it’s in the name of helping others. Didn’t I ever tell you that I had to take a job as a janitor to make ends meet once? Plunging a public toilet isn’t a classy job, but I did it. Come on. Go deeper with me.”

There was something intriguing about him. She had spent time watching his patient eyes in their Philosophy class, getting a mild headache trying to keep up with all of his deep thoughts. He was the type of guy who said things like, “If God were a piece of music, what would he sound like?” She didn’t even know how to begin with a question like that, but that’s why she liked him. Because he was deep. So, she agreed to go deeper.

#

It was a hot, sticky July day in Minnesota. He rented a row boat and took her to the lake at sunset. The mosquitoes descended immediately. A black cloud of hungry mouths pricked their soft, delicate skin with the precision of acupuncture needles. She put her arms around his neck to stop her natural impulse to swat them away. She paid attention to the ridge of his shoulder blades and ignored the pain.

They stayed until the last flash of sunlight faded from the clear water.

We should be getting back,” he said. It’s getting dark.”

Wait. Go deeper with me.” And she kissed him. It was just like she thought it would be. The way he kissed her made her feel like she was the most important living thing on the planet.

#

Now, he was gone. She had misheard him at first. “Tiger Next Monastery? Where’s that?”

No, Tiger Nest Monastery. It’s in Bhutan in South Asia. I’ve been studying more and more about Buddhism. I have to continue my path toward enlightenment. I want to live with the monks. I love you, but can you go deeper?

I can’t leave my family.”

I’m so sorry. I have to go.”

When will you be back?”

I have no idea.”

Please don’t leave me.”

I have to. I’m sorry.”

#

She went to the lake at sunset when she missed him. She sat in a boat without his shoulder blades to protect her, and she never swatted the mosquitoes away.

Skin of the Tiger

Ellen Howard Attar

As Gloria handed me a towel to dab my lipstick, I asked “why do you work here? These people are horrid and condescending. Don’t my parents pay you enough for cleaning their house each week to keep you from scrubbing toilets at the country club?”

“I’m doin’ a little extra, saving up money to help Jason go to medical school.”

“Gloria, you know he wants to be a writer.”

“Your dad sent that boy to Harvard because he’s brilliant. I ain’t gonna waste his money by letting him wait tables an’ write stories. “

At the table, Tommy asked “why are all the waiters black?”

Father explained, “it’s just another of life’s imponderable questions. It’s impossible to know what motivates people. Some become bankers, some wash dishes. Wouldn’t it be presumptuous for us to question such life decisions? ”

I ordered another Sazerac by simply raising my left eyebrow towards Jason, who was waiting tables.

“I’m going to the Himalayan Mountains next week”.

Mother choked on her chardonnay. “You’ve only been through three months of your debut; the season lasts all year. We’ve got hundreds of parties lined up; we’ve had all those dresses made.

“I’ve had enough conversations about fishing, hunting and football to last a life time. Sorry, mother, but I’m done. “

“We know you broke your trust three years ago. Living in New York undoubtedly decimated the last of your funds. You won’t get another cent from us until your wedding day!”

“World economics and marketplace analytics are still fascinating. After one semester, I had the sense to use my own money, and quadrupled my investment. I continue to invest and don’t foresee any financial difficulties in my lifetime.”

“As he came closer, I could hear his loud purring and the thudding of my own heart. He gently took the meat from my hand, and when finished, he lay in the warm sunlight cleaning his paws. ’Take me away’ I whispered. He looked into my eyes, asking ‘where do you want to go’. I answered ‘far, far, away, where no one can find me; where I can be free to live my own life; to think my own thoughts; to speak my mind freely’. He nudged me gently. I rubbed his head and scratched his ears. I slowly crept onto his back. He got up and stretched. I wrapped my arms around his neck. He started running. Faster and faster he went, until the trees were blurring by, the wind was roaring past my ears, water running from my eyes. I felt free, unafraid. I nestled my head into his soft fur as he leapt into the air, and we flew far away. “

Tommy rolled towards me, “where did the tiger take you Emmy?”

“A beautiful monastery perched on the side of a mountain. Soon, I will go back. When you’re older you can visit me. Don’t forget the Tiger Nest Monastery. Now go to bed, sweet darling.”

The next morning, Emmy and Jason were both gone. No one listened to Tommy as he explained that they were in the Tiger Next Monastery.

Tootsie-Roll Pops and AzaleasMamie Pound

Mamie Pound

The woman dunked the mop in a plastic bucket.

In wide swoops, she moved the suds from one corner of the bathroom to the other, stopping short of the stalls.

“Is there a wedding here today?” A woman opened the bathroom door and asked, breathless.

“Down in the Big Top,” the cleaning lady replied.

“Thanks!” The woman yelled and ran down the hall, sandals clacking.

Dirty water squeezed from the mop. She shook her head,“Who would’ve guessed, a circus in the old Monastery, and now a wedding?”

The Strong Man and the Ballerina were to be married under the Big Top. The bride rode in on an African elephant, wearing a spangled pink leotard and white tights, carrying a bouquet of Tootsie Roll Pops and watermelon-pink azaleas. An enormous plume of white Ostrich feathers crowned her crayon-yellow curls.

The groom walked the tightrope. After an impressive summersault, he landed just to her left, a red plastic boutonniere stuck in the button hole of his lapel.

He lifted a hand to the tiny, beautiful dancer. She slid off the elephant’s trunk and joined him center stage. A pair of clowns and the Shortest Man on Earth played ukulele, classical guitar and harmonica, first performing a Beatles melody, then the wedding march, then another tune by Leonard Cohen.

“Larry!” A woman’s voice yelled from outside the tent. The musicians paused mid-song.

The lion raised his fur. The bride looked at her groom and Larry shrugged his shoulders, nodded for the band to carry on.

A gunshot pinged against something metal. “I’m warning you, Larry,” the woman yelled.

Larry, who was now called Steven the Amazing, unhooked his bride’s arm from his own and held up a finger to say, “I’ll be right back.” He strode out of the tent into the late afternoon sun. His red tuxedo jacket flapped behind him, creating a wake of ruffling faux-silk and dust.

The crowd was silent.

The bride shifted her weight from one ballet slipper to the other. Her silver sequins catching the spotlight with every movement, flashing like a million tiny polaroids, welding-torch, burn-out-your-retinas bright. But the crowd could not look away.

She was after all, a star.

Loretta knew who was out there. The thought of the debutante ex-girlfriend in the parking lot, crying to her almost-husband, made her bite into one of her petal pink fingernails.

People started to whisper.

Larry was shouting now. The debutante yelled back.

The lion paced.

But Loretta wasn’t scared. She had known it was dangerous, leaving her job at the bookstore to join the circus, then stealing another woman’s man.

It hadn’t been her intention.

The circus just happened to be there. And so did Larry.

It wasn’t her fault about the flat tire, or the fact that he’d wanted to help, offered to show her the way to Arab, Alabama, to the old Monastery. He’d laughed when she’d told him she was joining the circus.

But somewhere between the flat tire and the Alabama state line, Larry fell in love.

The JudgeDaniel J. Sanz

Daniel J. Sanz

The gunshot echoed, shattering the night as the weapon discharged. Derek was upon the attacker, redirecting the firearm and shoving him back against the graffiti choked wall. Behind the obscurity of the dumpster, tucked neatly between concrete and glass giants, the struggle continued.

The man fought for control of the weapon but a crack across the jaw impeded the effort. Derek disarmed him and flung him to the pavement.

Derek looked down at the young woman, scantily clad and shaken from the ambush. So naïve. These young, upper-class girls were so preoccupied with social statuses that these “débutantes” often neglected their own safety. Walking alone in this city they were prey among predators.

Next door, bass percussion of Club Tiger Nest rattled the alley. Constructed in the likeness of a Himalayan Buddhist Monastery, laced with neon and cheesy retro motifs, this establishment was no doubt the source of the young woman’s misadventures.

The thug charged again. Derek greeted him with a knee to the manhood and cast him down again. Brushing off his black overcoat and adjusting his flat cap to keep the shadow over his eyes, Derek peered down disdainfully. Trash.

Derek spent thankless days sweeping garbage and scraping away filth in the public bathrooms down at Festival Square. However, hitting the streets after work was where he would find the real dirt.

He offered a hand to the fallen maiden but her sudden white complexion told him the thug had recovered quicker than expected. He whirled around in time to divert the barrel away from his face. In an array of sparks and thunder the bullet exploded against the dumpster. Derek delivered a boot thrust to the knee, buckling it sideways and stripping the handgun away. He brought the metal grip down upon his attacker’s exploding nose. The man collapsed with hands up, choking on blood.

Derek coldly pointed the weapon at panicked eyes. What difference could I make here? The scum was no different than the crap he chiseled every day. Getting rid of it only to have it return again.

This man is a seasoned criminal, he justified to himself. She is probably not his first victim, but I can make her his last. Derek stepped over his bulk and pressed the barrel into his forehead, prompting a futile protest of coughs and sputters.

Perhaps by killing him, I save five others? Ten?

He tightened his grasp on the weapon. Do I have a right to judge this man and condemn him in an unspeakable act? Is permanent justice worth the cost of morality?

His hand trembled and the thought became too impossible to ponder. Snapping himself from his trance he chucked the gun into the dumpster as red and blue danced down the avenue. He turned away from the defeated man. I’m not you.

Sirens wailed as they approached and Derek scaled the wall at the rear of the alley. The question burned inside him but he knew his answer. He’d do what he always did. I’ll just come back and clean it up again tomorrow.

An Imponderable Bathroom

Vance Rowe

Jim works in a large hotel as a janitor. It is usually his job to make sure that the floors are swept and mopped, carpeted areas are vacuumed and all of the public rest rooms are cleaned. Today was especially important as there is going to be a débutante ball in one of the ballrooms tonight so he was purposefully assigned to make sure the rest rooms are all kept clean before, during and after the event. Other janitors were assigned to floors details and trash details as well. Jim hated cleaning the rest rooms because they were usually nasty and filthy but it was quieter in the rest rooms and this meant that he could think. While Jim was cleaning a rest room, he thought about the débutante ball tonight and how it would be nice if he could marry a débutante because they come from “upper society” and upper society means money. If he could marry into money, then he would no longer have to clean rest rooms. During the cotillion that night, Jim was in awe of all the beautiful young ladies that were there dressed in all their finery and each one looked like a princess to him. He watched them being paraded around the ballroom and then watched them dance with potential beaus and he grew jealous. He was thinking of the grandeur of it all, as he cleaned a ladies’ rest room. Then one of the débutante’s walked in and was surprised to see him in there. They struck up a conversation and after a few minutes, Jim asked her if she would date him. She wanted nothing to do with him but gave him one chance, “If you can answer this question, then I will date you.” Jim replied, “Okay, lay it on me.” The young lady smiled and asked, “Why is a delivery by car called a shipment and a delivery by ship called cargo?” “Oh no, not an imponderable question,” he thought to himself, The young lady wrote down her phone number and handed it to him and said, “Call me when you have the answer.” Jim knew he would not easily find the answer and didn’t really know about how to find it out and then it hit him. He knew where to find the answer. The next morning, he grabbed a flight to Bhutan and then proceeded the trek up to the Tiger Nest monastery. He knew the Buddhist monks would have the answer. He was excited because he was done cleaning rest rooms now. Nothing but a life of luxury and leisure was ahead of him. Jim entered one of the temples and found a monk and asked him the question. The monk seemed puzzled and finally he told Jim to follow him. They walked to the main shrine where the head Lama resides and was told to ask him the question. When Jim asked him the question, the head Lama thought about it for a minute and left the room. Soon he returned with a mop and said, “Clean our restrooms and the answer will come to you.”