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


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…?”


“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’.”



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


The Iron Writer Challenge #162

2016 Spring Solstice Open, Preliminary Round

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Brackets/Authors:

Their Bracket

G. L. Dearman, Mamie Pound, Keith Badowski, Michael Cottle

There Bracket

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

They’re Bracket

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

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

The Iron Writer Challenge #153 – 2016 Spring Open Challenge #1

railroad water tower

The Iron Writer Challenge #153

2016 Spring Open Challenge #1

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Authors:

Vance Rowe, M. D. Pitman, Zac Moran, G. L. Dearman

The Elements:

A Bride or Groom left alone at the altar
An old, unused railroad water tower
An old scar
A broken ceramic bowl

The WeddingMichael Pitman

M. D. Pitman

Normally the wind blowing in her hair would have felt good if she wasn’t leaving trying to leave the pain inflicted upon her in the little country church. It was at that altar where her life was to change forever. And it did. “Never again,” she promised herself before she took off toward an old water tower.

The wedding was to be small and quaint to consummate her second chance at love. Actually, their second chance at love as her groom-to-be too had loved but was left – though it wasn’t at the altar like her. A few dozen guests peppered each side of the aisle to see the couple begin their new lives after their old ones crumbled.

She didn’t know why her fiancé hadn’t showed up on their wedding day. Thoughts raced.

“Did he wreck?”

“Is he in the hospital?”

“Is he sick?”

But her last thought felt like the truth: “Did he have second thoughts?”

As that thought formed, the church bells chimed. It was 6 o’clock. The sun began to set and a celestial luster shone through the stained-glass replica window of Notre Dame’s rose window creating the perfect light for an indelible memory.

This memory was not what she wanted, but the memory has already been seared into her mind.

Tears turned into anger when his best man showed her the text message: “Something came up.” Those three words ripped open her yet-to-be-fully healed damaged heart. It was a different church, a new dress, but the same rejection.

A few moments, maybe it was minutes or longer, was spent staring at those three words on his best man’s cellphone. Three words she’d never forget. Her concentration was interrupted by the best man cautiously freeing his phone from her white-knuckled, tightening grip.

Her mind when blank but she remembered the hatred, slapping arms of guests trying to console her, and blurry flashes of ripped wrapping paper and flying gifts. As fast as she tore through the packages, she stopped just as fast when she came across a ceramic bowl. It had their names engraved on it with today’s date. Then a guttural high-pithed screaming roar erupted from her small-framed body before hurling the bowl against the wall. It smashed into dozens of pieces.

Then she collapsed exhausted.

The tears that once poured down her face had dried. Her emotions tapped.

Her bridesmaids helped her up as they attempted to console her newly re-damaged heart. They led her toward back to the altar, to the rear exit but she stopped right before the altar, collapsing on the first step.

She sat there, for hours, staring at the stained-glass window. She ignored all attempts of people trying to convince her to leave. A few of the guests were able to escort her out and into her maid of honor’s car. She sat in the passenger seat staring into the dusk of horizon. Flock of black birds crisscrossed the open country field that only contained an old water tower, close to where the grass met the sky. She contemplated life … and death.

Spring Thaw

G. L. Dearman

Dates do not exist in the camp. Today is today; there is no yesterday, no tomorrow. If only 5168 would learn that.

Spring has finally melted winter’s snows, turning the ground to ankle-deep muck. Plants, long hidden, emerge from the soil. Flowers rush to bloom and die before Siberia’s winter returns.

In Siberia, even warmth brings suffering — mosquitoes breed in the camp’s decrepit water tower. It still stands, though it is useless to the diesel trains that bring men here and leave empty. The mosquitoes gather in clouds thick enough to choke a man. They swarm us as we stand at attention on the soggy parade ground. 5168 smiles like a fool.

“The anniversary of my wedding day approaches,” he whispers in the soup line. “May thirty-first. I know by the thaw.”

I shake my head. “Today is today. May thirty-first doesn’t exist.” I learned when I first arrived. Commander Kozlov taught me. The scars he left on my back ensure I don’t forget.

“They arrested me moments before our wedding, but Vera will wait for me.”

A guard glares at him.

“No one waits,” I whisper. “Stop saying such things, 5168. You’ll get yourself killed.”

“I have a name,” he says. “Volodya. And yours?”


The guard slaps the ceramic bowl from 5168’s hand. It shatters on the wooden floor. The other prisoners laugh, glad for the distraction. I look away. The camp will not issue 5168 a new soup bowl. He must survive on bread alone now, or starve.


After yesterday’s beatings, 5168 cannot rise from our shared bunk this morning.

Kozlov bends over the broken man, a smile raising his fat jowls. “Tell me,” he says, “today’s date.”

5168 cannot open his eyes. Through bloodied lips, he whispers, “May thirty-first.”


I am fortunate Volodya died in the spring. I dig three feet down before striking soil too frozen to continue. In such a spacious grave, he shall sleep well.

I bury him facing west. When he arises on the day of judgment, he’ll have his back to Christ, but he’ll face his beloved Vera.

Around the brown patch of turned earth, new grass covers hundreds of low mounds. There is only one escape from this place.

As I return to the barracks, shovel in hand, an empty train rumbles out of camp. The new arrivals line the parade ground at sloppy, unpracticed attention.

Commander Kozlov waves me over.

“I am not a cruel man,” he says to the assembled men. They look to each other, doubtful. “You can make life in this camp easier on yourselves. Meet 1117, one of our hardest workers. He has learned how to stay out of trouble. You could all benefit by his example.”

I stare at my mud-encrusted boots. I can’t meet the eyes of the new prisoners.

“1117,” Kozlov says, “tell them today’s date.”

A name, long hidden, emerges from my memory. “My name is Yuri Maximovitch Dumanovsky.” I look into Kozlov’s watery eyes. He stiffens in impotent shock. “It is the first of June.”


Zac Moran

“You may kiss the bride.”

“Wait, what? But Eve, we agreed that we wouldn’t-”

Eve ripped off the white paper mask covering Mark’s mouth, put her hands on the back of his head, and pulled him into a kiss.

Mark jerked away.

“I’m sorry, mark. I needed to kiss you. Just once.”

“Eve,” Mark whispered, his eyes welling up with tears. He turned and ran down the aisle.

“Mark!” Eve yelled after him.

Mark tripped one of the pews. His arms shot out to grab ahold of something as he knocked into a stand. The ceramic bowl of holy water on top of the stand fell off, shattering on the ground and sending it’s contents flying. Mark steadied himself and made for the door.

“Mark!” Eve yelled after him again as the door swung shut behind him

Others in the church whispered amongst each other. Eve hiked up her white dress and ran after Mark. Once outside, she put her hand over her eyes to shield them from the midday sun as she looked around, but Mark was nowhere to be seen.

The sun was setting as Eve walked up the old water tower Mark was standing under.

“What the Hell, Mark. You just left me at the altar!”

Mark was silent.

“Look, I understand your condition. I’m okay spending the rest of my life without any sort of physical contact because I love you,” Eve paused, “But I wanted one kiss. On our wedding day. That’s all I wanted. Just one kiss. You couldn’t give me that?”

“Eve, I’m not a germophobe. I don’t need this mask or these gloves. Eve…”

“If that’s not the problem, then what is it? Tell me. Please.”

“When I touch people, I see how they’re going to die.”


“You probably think I’m crazy. I don’t know how it happened, but I woke up one day with my back covered in scars and ever since then, I can’t touch anyone or I see their death. Look.”

Mark took off his tuxedo jacket and shirt to reveal an elaborate pattern of symbols and circles carved into his back.

“How could I ever look at you again when I know how you’re going to die? That image will haunt me for the rest of my life. How can I possibly-”

“Mark, look at me,” said Eve as she walked around in front of him.

Mark looked down at the ground.

“Mark. I believe you.”

Mark scoffed.

“You’d be the first.”

“Well why shouldn’t I believe you? Mark, look at me.”

Eve grabbed Mark’s chin and pulled his face up. Their eyes met. A tear rolled down Mark’s cheek.

“I believe you. Besides…”

Eve leaned towards him until her lips where next to his ear. Mark grunted as a knife plunged into his stomach.

“Who do you think made you this way?”

The Dream Wedding

Vance Rowe

She is very nervous and very excited. It’s not every girl who gets to have the wedding of her dreams and she has been dreaming about this day for most of her life. It is an exciting, albeit a worrisome time, at the bride’s parents home. She is hopeful, as is any bride, that the day will go off without a hitch. Then it happened. Something went wrong.

The bride accidentally knocked a ceramic candy bowl off a small table and it fell to the floor and broke. Mortified by this, she ran from the room and into her bathroom, sobbing, hoping this was not some kind of omen. She wiped the tears from her eyes and looked down at her right wrist. With the fingers of her left hand, she gently touched an old scar on her wrist.

Her mother remembers the last time her daughter went through a bad break-up and almost lost her only child. She prayed it wasn’t happening again. Her mother pleaded with her to open the door.

After a few minutes, the soon-to-be-bride opened the door and let her mother in. Her mother is relieved that nothing had happened and they talked for a while. When the woman felt better, she once again wiped the tears from her face and then went to finish getting ready for the dream wedding.

As she rode to the church with her bridal party and parents in the stretch limousine they were going by the old water tower. As the limo got closer to the water tower she looked up at it and saw the words -I LOVE YOU! I’M SORRY! – painted in big green letters across the front of the tower. She hung her head and heaved a deep, sorrowful sigh.

When they arrived at the church, the bride stepped out of the limousine with her party and they walked into the large cathedral and into a room to wait and to take care of any last minute touches to hair and make-up. Then there was a knock at the door. The bride’s mother opened it and the best man is standing there. “Jim is running late.”

The bride turned her head and knew she is about to be left alone, at the altar. She asked to be alone for a few minutes and the bridal party, and her mother, left the room.

Sorrowfully, she pulled a small pen knife from her purse that they had planned on using to open cards with later on, and she touched it to her old scar.

As she lay there on the floor with her life draining from her body, her father had broken the door open and was in tears as he saw his little girl lying on the floor in a pool of blood. He rushed to her side.

She looked up at her father and very weakly asked, “Is he here?”

“He’s here, Darling,” the father replied. He lied.

She then smiled and asked, “I finally get the dream wedding?”

“Yes, Dear. You have your dream wedding.”

She smiled at her father and with her last breath, she whispered, “Thank you.”

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