The Iron Writer Challenge #151 – 2016 Winter Equinox Preliminary Round, Fahrenheit 451 Bracket

April fool's joke

The Iron Writer Challenge #151

2016 Winter Equinox Preliminary Round

Fahrenheit 451 Bracket

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Elements:

An April Fools Joke

Energy drinks

Yellow highlighter

The basement

The Authors:

Tina Biscuit

Laura Roberts

Wesley Kirk

Harry Craft

Quite Contrary

Tina Biscuit 

Mary woke up alone in bed. Peter was never first up. She stroked a hand across the space where he would usually be, as if he might magically appear. She looked at her mobile; the alarm was switched off. Then it dawned on her: April fool’s day – Peter must have turned it off as a joke. It was Saturday, and she was exhausted; maybe he was being considerate, knowing it had been a tough week, with the court case and everything. No, he would probably have been up early, preparing an April fool’s joke to catch her out again. She shuddered at the memories. 

Mary pulled her dressing gown from the hook on the door, hesitating as the door moved. No, people didn’t really do that bucket of water thing. Entering the bathroom, she remembered the trick with the cling-film, and checked under the toilet seat – now that was a messy trick. 

Downstairs, the kitchen was deserted. Everything was laid out like a suburban Marie Celeste: toast in the rack, tea in the pot, two cups, but no Peter. The morning newspaper was open at the centre pages. As she poured the tea, she noticed some yellow marks on the type. Closer inspection revealed a highlighter pen had been used to mark certain letters. Slowly she worked it out.

‘How lame, Peter’, she said under her breath. It spelt out the words: STUCK IN BASEMENT. She dialled his mobile and got the answerphone; she left a message – ‘Nice try, Peter. How can you be, if you were up here?’ Then something struck her, and she rang again. She walked into the hall, where the ringing was coming from. The trapdoor to the basement was half open; she pulled it up, and climbed down the steps. Peter was standing at the bottom. He pointed back up to the trapdoor, and shouted, ‘get the door’. It slammed shut, and they heard the catch lock on the other side. 

‘Now we’re both stuck’, he sobbed.

‘How long have you been here, Peter?’

‘Hours.’

‘Why did you leave a note, and then come down here? It doesn’t make any sense.’

‘I thought you had left that message, and I came down looking for you.’

‘Well, that was smart, Peter. You knew I was still in bed, because you turned the alarm off on my phone.’

‘I wasn’t feeling too clever after all that Vodka and Red Bull we drank last night. And I don’t know anything about your phone.’

‘This isn’t right, Peter. You think it’s one of the kids?’

‘Wouldn’t surprise me. They have learnt from the master.’

‘Yeah, you’re some father, tormenting your kids all their lives.’

‘I’ll phone them now. That’s probably Jonathan we heard closing the trapdoor.’ 

‘Jonathan.’

‘It’s your dad. Let us out of the basement. Your mum’s panicking, she’s got claustrophobia.’ 

‘What did he say, Peter?’

‘Just, “Good one, dad”, then he hung up.’

‘Phone him back.’

‘No answer. I guess I’ve cried wolf too many times.’ 

‘Say the words, Peter.’

‘It’s not a joke. It would be a good one, but no, nothing to do with me.’ 

‘So – who’s upstairs?’ 

One for the AgesWes Kirk

Wesley Kirk

This year my April Fools’ prank would be a joke for the ages. Some may call it obsessive, with notebooks full of scribbles, diagrams, and yellow highlighter markings.

I called it brilliance. “Evil genius going to waste on cheap gag”? There was nothing ‘cheap’ here.

While the plan had been birthed over a weekend of too little sleep and too much mountain dew, the real planning took place in my lair. Yes, it’s the basement of my parents’. But that’s not nearly as impressive when you say it that way.

I gathered the supplies over the course of months. One here. Another there. All of which were stored in a corner of the basement that not even our fat cats would traverse.

After I was certain that everyone had gone to bed, I crept down to the kitchen and began plan “Roadrunner.”

This year April Fools’ fell on a Friday. Fridays happen to be the day my mother’s class hold parties celebrating the week’s successes. After taking a test, the students get a long break, were they partake in a variety of snacks provided by volunteers. I volunteered this week.

I spent all night making cupcakes. By time the rest of my family was waking up, I had an army of ninety-six minions arrayed in their cases.

My mother cooed over the detail I put into each one. She swore she expected them to hop out and scream, “Bananna!” any second. I helped her load the car, and waved her off before heading to the bus.

I hurried to my mom’s class after school. From the hallway I could see the kids already in full celebration. All of them had hands and faces covered in yellow frosting.

The fun hadn’t started yet.

Things escalated quickly. One kid face planted and went straight into a coma. Another kid fell down to his knees like that lieutenant from Platoon. Again, completely out. I surmised these two were my mother’s ADHD children. Stimulants react differently with them.

Energy drinks are nearly pure sugar, they also contain massive amounts of caffeine. Plus, I concentrated it into a syrup before using it to make the cupcakes.

Simultaneously, the kids started losing their minds. So did my mother.

A couple kids started running around like the flash, and I’m quite certain one of them broke the sound barrier. Another kid went feral and climbed a bookcase. Perching on top, he started hissing and swiping at my mom, like a cat, as she tried to get him down.

Beyond the swarm of bees that used to be her sweet little kindergarteners, there was another of note. This one apparently reached Nirvana.

He sat there, looking around slowly, with an open mouthed smile, as he slowly waved his hand in front of his eyes.

The kid got to relive the seventies through syruped caffeine laced cupcakes.

Now I’m sitting here in the police station, while the police flip through pages for anything they can charge me with while Nirvana kid preaches from the chief’s desk and cat boy is hissing at everyone from the top of the bookcase.

Admittedly, mistakes were made.

WorkingHarry Craft

Harry Craft

Jack woke up, head throbbing. What a night! he thought. Another out-of-control college party—too much loud music, too much booze, too much everything. Rising slowly to a sitting position on the couch, he looked around his small studio apartment. Things were a mess, but he’d seen worse. At least no one else was passed out in his room. That always sucked, especially if it was people you didn’t know.

As he rubbed his head he noticed an uncapped yellow highlighter on the coffee table. Odd. Glancing around the room, he saw why—there was a large pattern in yellow on his floor. His vision was still a bit blurry, so he couldn’t quite make it out—some kind of star? And what were those at the points? Cans? He stood up a bit unsteadily and walked over to the nearest one. It was an energy drink can, and judging from the soggy spot on the rug, it had been poured out. The hell?!

As he collected the cans to drop them in the recycle bin, he could vaguely remember his friend Sam last night doing…now what was it? It had been late, Jack had long ago lost count of his drinks, most of the party-goers had drifted out, and Sam was going on about offerings and work—no, a working. What the hell did that mean? Jack had always thought Sam was a bit weird. Certain times of year brought it out more than others, to boot. This brought a thought to the back of his mind, but he could not quite grasp it.

As Jack stumbled back to the couch, the hair on the back of his neck began to prickle. Was someone else there after all? He looked around and cautiously drifted to every corner of the studio. Since it was in the basement, the only way in was down the stairs, and the door at the base of the stairwell was closed. He walked back to the center of the room and stood by his couch. Suddenly a grisly voice that emanated from—well, from everywhere and nowhere—spoke.

“Mortal!” it boomed.

Jack actually jumped slightly. Looking to one side, he saw a shimmer begin in the air. A cold fear descended on him, but he could not uproot his feet as he stared in horrified fascination. The shimmer condensed into a loathsome being with blood-red skin, horns, and pointed teeth. A demon. Its body was fully formed now and it stepped toward him, once more speaking: “Mortal!”

Jack’s legs finally obeyed and he turned to run. He was not fast enough—the demon easily leaped nearly eight feet, landing in front of him. Mere inches away, it stared at him. Jack cringed, holding up his hands, unable to speak from the terror.

“IT IS TIME!” the demon said in a voice even louder than before.

“Time for what?” sobbed Jack.

The demon paused for a moment, then grinning, spoke a final time: “APRIL FOOL!”

Pretty Girls Make GravesLaura Roberts

Laura Roberts

Gonzo Jofreshy bopped his way down the street like he had nothing to lose, whistling tunelessly, fingers a-snappin’ like he’d just won the lottery.

In a way, he’d hit the jackpot this morning, as he’d stood in front of the judge.

“Not guilty,” she’d declared.

There had been a lot of hugging, and some crying — but not from Gonzo. His lawyer had ushered him out into a Cadillac with dark windows, quickly, before the media vultures could descend.

Now his fingertips pressed lightly on a heavy oak door, easily pushing it inward and stepping into the afternoon gloom of an Irish pub.

“What’ll ya have?” the no-nonsense bartender asked. He either didn’t recognize Gonzo, or was doing a fine job of pretending. Either way suited him fine.

“Vodka and Red Bull,” he replied.

“We don’t serve that garbage in here,” the bartender growled.

“I’ve got it, Connor,” a buxom brunette purred, slipping behind the bar toward the Grey Goose.

Connor shoved off, grumbling, as he wiped the bar with a filthy rag.

“Compliments of the house.” The brunette smiled, setting the drink before him.

He remembered the way she watched him down the short glass, later, when he came to in the basement with a yellow highlighter strapped between his teeth like a gag.

He remembered the spinning feeling in his head, and his stomach.

He remembered the way she’d winked.

What he couldn’t remember was how she’d managed to slip something into his drink. After all, a pro ought to notice these things. And he was certainly a pro at these things, by now, wasn’t he?

“So, Gonzo, we heard you got off easy,” a deep male voice behind him rumbled, like a big rig firing up for a long haul.

“We don’t like easy, do we?” a female voice queried, this one equally rough, like the pit of a limestone quarry.

“Easy like Sunday morning, maybe,” the male voice countered. “But you ain’t exactly Lionel Ritchie, are you, then?”

“What the hell do you want?” Gonzo wanted to shout into the darkness, but the yellow highlighter prevented him. Somewhere, something was dripping ice-cold water, one drop at a time, onto the back of his neck. He shuddered instead.

“We warned you,” the female voice said, sharp as a razor blade. “Did you think this was just another one of our little jokes?”

“It *is* the first of April, dearie,” the male voice said. “Just to play devil’s advocate.”

“He already had one of those at the trial,” the female voice barks. “Not guilty my backside! He won’t get away with it this time.”

Gonzo’s brain strained for an explanation, groped for the name of the woman he was hearing behind his back. Somewhere in the mushy recesses of his brain, he caught snatches of familiar faces, darker places. He remembered his hands on her throat. He remembered squeezing. He remembered her legs kicking, and the smile he wore creeping wider as he squeezed tighter.

When the bucket of ice water drenched him, he howled for mercy. And the only two people on earth that could hear him simply laughed ’til their sides ached.

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The Iron Writer Challenge #147

dance hall

The Iron Writer Challenge #147

2016 Winter Solstice Challenge #5

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Authors:

Richard Russell, D Lee Cox, Tina Biscuit, Ellen Attar, Laura Roberts

The Elements:

A Dance Hall

The first line of any song

The sound of the ocean in a Sea Shell

A Bet

It’s Not Dark Yet

Ellen Howard Attar

“The girl standing under the Norse Dance Hall sign”.

“She looks interesting. Have you met her before?”

“Yeah, I have. I’m going to see if she’ll still talk to me.”

She looked up and her smile slowly spread. “Shadows are falling and I’ve been here all day, it’s too hot to sleep, time’s running away”.

“Let me buy you a drink, or something to eat. It’s been far too long”.

She nodded and we took off down the street.

As we neared my place, I suggested we go in. She just smiled and asked if I still had my big brass bed.

I said I do, and I’m sorry she ever left it. I’ve had other women, but no one else ever compared.

The room was hot, but at least it was clean. She sat by the window with the conch shell to her ear. “Listening to the ocean reminds me of our place in the Keys. I thought we’d be there forever, living a perfect dream. You playing in our little shack, me cooking. I’ve never since found happiness or peace quite like that.”

I smiled at the memories she called forth, said I wished she’d never left. Told her I was hard to live with. Too young to understand the transcendent beauty of what we had. I said I believed we could get back there, if she’d just give me another chance.

She didn’t believe it was possible to return to the past. I said “why not”? If she’d just give me a chance, I’d prove her wrong. We placed a bet on it. If we could spend a night as good as our best, capturing the magic of our past, she would stay with me. I even promised we’d move back to the Keys.

She said she hoped there was something I could do or say, because she’d love to stop running away. She’d love me tonight, like she has every other. For her too, there was never another.

The pizza was delivered, we sat on the floor listening to Dylan, and drinking red wine. It was as if the years had never come between us, and I believed it could last forever. I swore I’d never leave her, and knew it was the truth. She just smiled and said her soul had turned to steel. She had scars that the sun had never healed. Then she smiled and said don’t worry, we’ve got some memories to relive.

I woke up with a smile, so happy to have my love by my side. I kissed the back of her neck and rushed out for beignets, ecstatic, believing in second chances and getting it right.

I got home thirty minutes later. She wrote me a letter and wrote it so kind. She put down in writing what was in her mind. We couldn’t go back there, not alone nor together.

I notice that the shadows are falling and I’ve been here all day. It’s too hot to sleep, time’s running away. The empty bottle falls from my hand, rolls under the bed, it’s not dark yet but it’s getting there.

A Little Ditty

Tina Biscuit

Jack slung his rucksack over one shoulder.

‘Come on, we’ll ask this guy.’

Diane followed him down the grassy slope to the harbour. There were two fishing boats tied to the sea wall. Jack was heading towards a small creel-boat. A man was repairing the outboard motor.

‘Nice morning, are you going out?’

The man wiped a greasy hand over his brow and turned.

‘Hoping to, once I’ve fixed this.’

‘What’s the problem?’

‘Oh, she’s been leaking petrol, had to come in to fix her.’

‘Have you room for a couple of passengers down to Mingulay?’

‘I’m not a tourist boat, I’ve got pots to check.’

‘Could you just drop us off for a few hours. We can help. We can pay you.’

Jack held out a twenty.

‘If she’s got one of those as well, you’ve got a deal.’

Diane nodded.

‘Come back in an hour, I’ll be ready then’, he said, turning back to his task.

By mid-day they were afloat. The sea was choppy, with a swell coming off the Atlantic. The boat stopped frequently. They watched as he hauled creels, checked them, and threw them back, leaving a trail of orange buoys. Diane was mesmerised; she started to sing:

‘I wish I was a fisherman, tumblin’ on the seas.’

‘Do you know any songs, Dave?’

‘Some’, he glanced at the tattoos on his arm, ‘you pull up the next one.’

Diane tugged at the rope. Jack watched. Dave sung:

‘Heel ya ho, boys, let her go, boys

Heave her head round to the weather

Heel ya ho, boys, let her go, boys

Sailing homeward to Mingulay.’

Soon, all three were singing while they hauled in the pots, to the rhythm of the shanty – all of them were empty.

After a few hours, steep cliffs loomed above them. They rounded the island, and a horseshoe beach beckoned. Dave dropped them off, agreeing to return in four hours.

‘How do we know he’ll come back?’

Jack held up a twenty-pound-note, ‘I bet you this that he will.’

‘He’ll probably need that to fix that leak.’

‘Still quite a smell of petrol.’

Jack pinched his nose.

She picked up a shell, and cradled it to her ear.

‘I can hear the ocean.’

‘That’s the sea’, Jack said, dryly.

‘Let’s go up to the cliffs, I want to see the ocean.’

The cliffs were over 1000 feet high. Jack crawled to the edge and looked out. Diane strolled up beside him, and spread her arms, imitating the fulmars flying – hovering in the up-draughts.

‘Look up here, I’m in heaven’, she shouted down at the world.

‘I can see Norway.’

‘It must be St. Kilda.’

‘Where’s Norway?’

‘200 miles that way’, Jack pointed.

‘How do you know?’

‘I’ve been there: I went clubbing, all night, at a place called “The Norse Hall”, traditional danc…’

An explosion echoed around the cliffs; the fulmars scattered. Diane squeezed his hand as they watched the tiny boat flare up, then sink, leaving only a puff of smoke. In seconds there was nothing. Orange buoys bobbed up to the surface; they hoped one would be Dave.

None was.

Lurleen – A Scene from Marie ClemLee Cox

D. Lee. Cox

William “Bill” Rogers Murray looked to his left to see nowhere, to his right to see nowhere in particular. There was nothing outside his window but dirt and there was never going to be anything but dirt. He’d bet against the odds and lost. The land was dead, his marriage was dead, and his will to still his spirit from spirits was gone. He had a single dollar, a can of peas, and a pig.

He spent the dollar on a bottle of whiskey. Listening to the wind whistle through the long gone chinking in the walls like an ocean from a seashell he gave up his sobriety and half the can of peas to the pig. He sang sea shanties to the pig. He cussed the pig. He went to kick the pig at one point then slipped on what was left of the peas, landing on the floor on his back looking up at the rafters. He watched as the light of the full moon cast on one particular rafter, flickering as a bit of the tin roof waved in the cool night’s dusty wind. He decided he’d sell the pig and buy a ticket to somewhere. Somewhere else.

In town Bill Murray sat in the shade of the general store porch. He desperately wanted a soda, and had the money to buy one, but his fear of not being able to leave this one horse town – the rest were sold at auction or died of thirst in cracked pastures, eyes caked with the only kind of mud to be found for thousands of miles – blood and dirt – the fear of not being able to leave got the better of him.

Tin music floated down the porch from The Norse Hall – a two-bit whore house posing as a dance hall.

“Heaven, I’m in heaven

And the cares that hung around me through the week

Seem to vanish like a gambler’s lucky streak

When we’re out together dancing cheek to cheek”

Out the door tripped a thin bald man, buckling the belt over his slacks. Black suspenders on a black shirt, pastors collar flailing about in the man’s quick jesters to get his pants straight in a moot effort to save dignity.

“Melissa, please, you must listen to me,” the man implored, “there’s a place called Lurleen, we can go there! There’s honest work there. You won’t have to be a whore any more…”

She pushed him to the ground.

“Listen here, PASTOR Goodhope, you been comin’ here for two years and aint paid but a handful of times. I caint pay my debts with SALVATION…” – she said the word “salvation” with a combination growl and a powerful sarcasm – “… and I’m certain what you’ve paid me with is what we all threw in the hat on the occasional Sunday we attended, you little rat bastard weasel of a no-good…”

But her diatribe trailed off behind Bill Murray as he made his way to the train station.

Lurleen. What would it cost for him to make it to Lurleen?

Pain ReliefRichard Russell

Richard Russell 

Dave parked his car along the beach, turned off the engine, and sat looking out over the sand toward the sound of waves washing over the beach. It was another Saturday night, and he didn’t have nobody. Oh, he had some money ’cause he’d just got paid, but oh, how he wished he had someone to talk to. He was in an awful way. It had been five years since Maggie left. She wanted to live in the city and he preferred the country. He could still remember the argument they had that night on the beach. He poured his heart out describing how green acres was the place to be, and that farm living was the life for him. He loved to see the land spreading out so far and wide. Then he said it, “Maggie, “keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside.” She had taken a step back and adopted this look of horror as she retorted, “New York is where I’d rather stay. I get allergic smelling hay.   I just adore a penthouse view.” Then she drew her line in the sand, “Darling, I love you, but give me Park Avenue.” Then she turned and walked away.

Dave got out of his car and walked out onto the beach. It was getting dark and the wind had a chill to it, but this was where he would come when he missed her. Staring out into the ocean he spoke, “Hello darkness, my old friend. I’ve come to talk to you again.” Then he reached down and picked up a seashell. Pretending it was a phone he dialed Maggie’s number. “Wake up, Maggie, I think I got something to say to you.” He paused for a second then started again, “I heard you’re settled down; that you found a man, and you’re married now.” but the only response he heard was the vacant mimicking of the ocean waves. He turned and walked down the beach to the Norse Hall, where there was a dance tonight. In his pitiful loneliness, Dave knew he should be dancing, but the energy in him was drained. He sat on a bench outside the hall enjoying the party vicariously when a young woman approached him, “Once I was a boogie singer playing in a rock-n-roll band. I never had no problems running down the one-night-stands.” She touched his shoulder, “If you got a problem I don’t care what it is. If you need a hand I can assure you this, I can help.” Dave replied, “Have I a hope or half a chance to even ask if I could dance with you?” She smiled, “Any way you want it that’s the way you get it. Anyway you want it that’s the way you need it.” He smiled, “You make me feel like dancing.” She smiled, “I bet you want to dance the night away.”

Then she took his hand and they went into the hall and danced through the night as they held each other tight, and Dave didn’t think about Maggie once during all that time.

Love is a Burning ThingLaura Roberts

Laura Roberts

I heard Johnny Cash’s voice echoing down the street before I set foot inside the Norse Hall. Tonight it felt more like a curse than a blessing, despite the upbeat tempo. The kind of baptism you might receive from a demon, right before he plunged you headfirst into the River Styx.

My ears were ringing with the sound of the ocean hissing in the background, like pressing a seashell against my aching head. I paused on the threshold, watching the neon sign blinking in rhythm with the tune. Was I really going to do this?

I closed my eyes and breathed deep.

“Nervous?” came a female voice, just to my right.

“What?”

“I always get a little jittery before I go into one of these dances, myself,” she said. “I’m a big ‘fraidy-cat.”

The gorgeous creature confessing her fears to me was poetry in motion. Green eyes, softly curling red hair, and a body that I could easily picture on the dance floor… or somewhere a little more private.

“All you’ve got to do is move to the music, though, right?” she followed up.

I smiled and nodded.

“What’s your name, cowboy?” She’d noticed my scuffed boots.

“Shane.”

“Fitting,” she said, her face slipping into a crooked grin.

“Mind if I buy you a drink?” I asked, recovering my voice.

“Kate. I’d be much obliged,” she replied, tipping an imaginary hat.

I offered her my arm, and when she looped her thin limb around my elbow I had to suppress a shiver. It was the damndest thing. Whoever really believed in love at first sight, anyway?

We beelined for the bar, where a mustachioed bartender was flipping bottles like an extra from Cocktail.

“What’ll it be?”

I looked toward my companion, who bit her red lip, pondering for a moment, then announced “Whiskey. Neat.”

“I hadn’t pegged you for a whiskey gal,” I said, as the bartender poured the drink. I signaled for him to make it a double.

“I like to guess what the people I’m with would order,” she says with another crooked grin. “How’d I do?”

I hold up my glass and clink it against hers. “Skål.”

“Sláinte.”

I raised an eyebrow. “I thought this was the Norse Hall?”

“It’s Irish dancing tonight, cowboy.” She gave me a wink.

So much for my plan.

“Any advice?”

“Keep your hands to yourself, and try to keep up.” She threw back the whiskey, slammed the glass onto the bar, and disappeared into the crowd.

I drank my own shot of liquid courage, thinking.

“You know this bet don’t count unless you make physical contact, cowboy,” a male voice mocked from my left.

I dove into the crowd, ready to make the devil on my shoulder eat his words. Technically she’d already touched my arm. But I wasn’t one for technicalities.

I spotted her bouncing in time with a older man in a kilt, and immediately cut in on them. The older man looked surprised, but took in stride, grabbing the next young girl in the lineup.

She placed my hand on her waist as we turned to face one another. “It’s the Military Two Step, cowboy, not Riverdance.”

I followed her lead and did my best not to step on her toes. Her hand on my shoulder was lighter than a hummingbird, but still I knew I had this one in the bag. Even my clumsy dancing couldn’t stop me now.

When the music finally wound down and the dancing line of couples broke into applause, she leaned in and whispered “See you outside in five minutes.”

She exited the dance floor, and I headed to the bar for one last shot.

“Pay up,” I whispered to the shadow on my left.

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Weekend Quickie #119 (Sunday edition)

Cat aerobics

Bratwurst

2 Germans eating Squid

 250 words