The Iron Writer Challenge #180 – 2017 Spring Equinox Challenge #1

The Iron Writer Challenge #180

2017 Spring Equinox Challenge #1

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Authors:

Danielle Lee Zwissler, Paul Arden Lidberg, Matt Henderson, Mamie Pound

The Elements:

Monkey bars on a school playground

Working through a cold

No sleep for days

Carrying a baby

 

One and Only

Danielle Lee Zwissler

I sat in my living room, in the dark, remote control in hand, and my face was fallen. I haven’t had much sleep; it’s been days and now, through a haze of NetFlix and Hulu, I’d caught up with all the programming I’d ever wanted to watch or needed to finish. My throat hurt, my head was congested, my head felt like a playground, with little brown monkeys swinging to and fro through my wiring, causing me to twitch, and to be irritable. 

I wanted to die. 

“Joseph,” I heard my wife calling. “Joseph, it’s time to get ready.” 

I don’t want to, I thought about saying, but it was no use. I had to go. I took a deep breath, coughed, then stood, feeling dizzy again. 

“It’s going to be okay, you know?” my wife said, then gave me that irritating smile that said she was being hopeful. I hated that smile. I hated everything about it. She was carrying our son in her arms, and offered for me to hold him just then. 

“Sure it is,” I replied, then walked toward our bedroom, and then to our closet. I pulled out my black suit that I wore for weddings, and now funerals. I walked into the adjoining bath, took a quick shower, and tried to wipe away the sickness or depression or both. It didn’t work. 

Then, I walked out into the living room where my wife stood, already ready, for the first time in her life she was done before me, and wearing that same godamned smile. 

“Everything okay?” she asked. 

“Just peachy,” I replied. 

She smirked, and we walked out the door.

Fifteen minutes later I was standing before my brother’s casket. He was an amazing dad, a good husband, and a wonderful brother. I thought of the many times he’d tie me up in the back yard while we played cowboys and Indians, or when he sat on me in the living room, and tickled me until I gave up the remote control. I thought of the fun times when we went on vacation with our parents, and when he had parties at our house without them knowing. 

Now I didn’t have him. I didn’t have a sister, either. I was alone. I had a wife, a few kids, and my parents still, but soon my parents would die, and I would be the one left to bury them. I would be the one to give the eulogy, the one to deal with all the legalities, the one to put flowers on their graves. 

In my head, I pulled out my gun, put it up to my mouth, and brought back the trigger, smearing blood all over the sea of black.  But, in reality, I talked about him, about the things we did, and would have done, the regrets I had, and what life would be like without him. Nobody understands the death of a sibling until it happens to them. Nobody understand the effects.

The Call

© 2016 Paul Arden Lidberg

No one knows when they will get The Call. They just know they must be ready for it when it comes. At that moment, the world needs a Hero, and he cannot say “No”…

*****

Tommy pulled the stroller along behind him, attempting to maintain his balance while holding the very baby who should be in said stroller. The other kid had already run ahead to the monkey bars, blithely ignoring anything he said in his quest for climb-induced excitement. Stupid job!

All he wanted was an easy job where he could keep going to school and study while he was being paid. After the rude shock of discovering no one would pay a stranger to house sit, he managed to find this one only to experience a second shock when he found they actually expected him to work for the money! Between keeping track of these two hellions and studying, he’d not gotten any real sleep in days!

Finally arriving at the bench, he dragged the cursed stroller up and plopped the child down in it. The little boy, startled by the sudden change in venue, then immediately started bawling. That triggered Tommy’s now well-ingrained reflex, and a binky hit the kid’s mouth almost before he’d finished his first breath. “I gotta find another job….” he said to no one in particular for the 10th time that morning.

Suddenly, there was a loud flash and a bang, quickly followed by a colorful string of loud cursing. A man in a deep blue robe and pointed hat (all covered with weird embroidered symbols), a long grey and white beard and long hair was quickly patting at himself and muttering about being on fire.

Looking up, the obviously ancient man realized he had an audience. Locking eyes with Tommy, he raised his gnarled old hand holding some kind of stick and announced “the time has come!” He looked menacing, then suddenly sneezed…”Achoo! Damn cold…”

Casting about, Tommy nervously replied “…for what??”

As a crowd formed around the two, the wizened old man said “It is time for you to return, Arthur!” The voice was deeper and more certain than one would have expected from someone that old, and this further confused the young man. All eyes shifted back to Tommy.

“My name isn’t Arthur.”

“Wait…what?”

“I’m not Arthur.”

The old man seemed non-plussed. He grasped at some amulet hanging from his neck and said “But the ‘Eye’ said you were here…damn, cheap magic trinkets…Merlin, you’re getting old…” as he trailed off to muttering…”he’s supposed to be here!”

“He is. There.” Tommy pointed at the stroller. 

“The baby?” Merlin looked down. “Him? But he’s not even out of diapers!” He crouched down and looked into the child’s eyes. “You’re right, it’s him. Damn watch is wrong.” He stood back up.

“Stand back” said Merlin as he used his wand to cast a spell on the toddler. Before everyone’s eyes, the baby grew into a powerful, robust, handsome man. 

“Merlin, some clothes?” His deeply resonating voice was one that commanded respect.

“Oh, right.” Poof.

“Excellent, so tell me, what is so important?” He walked over to Merlin and they started to head out of the playground.

“Wait, what will I tell his mother?”

Postponed Due to Overexposure to the Elements
Matt Henderson

“I think I am getting a cold,” Megan sniffed and shivered, as she slid each of her hands inside the opposite sleeves of her jacket. Her nose was bright pink, and her eyes were watery. I slipped the hood of her jacket over her head, but before I could get it in place she shook her head back and forth and then snapped her head backward to fling it off. “You know I don’t like that,” she glared.
“You’re cute like that,” I said, “even with a red nose. You need to wear that, Meg. Let’s get you home. We’ll cut through the school yard by the drugstore, and get some vitamin C. You need mega doses before this cold sets in”
“Bite me,” she pouted, and gave a half smile. “You are a doctor now, huh?”
“Nope…never even played one on television, but I know what you need, “I said smugly.
You know what I need?” she trailed off…”interesting.”
“You need some vitamin C, a warm bath, some chicken soup…and a lot of rest. I will walk you home and make some soup. Get you tucked in.”
“That’s what I need?” she said, with a straight face, as if she were really asking…and then she laughed. “Nope, not what I need.”
“Well, maybe you are the doctor, Meg. What do you think you need?” I asked boldly; knowing I was walking on thin ice. She was my best friend, but…she was Megan. I liked her way more than friendly but I kept my mouth shut…most of the time.
“I do need to get home. If you make the soup, I will eat it. Then I have to get some work done. You have things to do, too,” she said sternly.
“It’s not worth getting pneumonia over,” I suggested.
“We won’t get pneumonia, man. I probably have some vitamin C at home. I will find it while you make the soup. You look like you need some too.”
“I do.” I said, with an incorrect and emphatic inflection. “I mean, I do?” this time with a tone suggesting surprised inquiry.
She laughed. “You are so silly sometimes! How old are you now…twelve?” She winked. “Yes! You do! You’re catching the cold, too. You’re flushed. You’re getting hoarse. That could be from talking too much.”
I didn’t feel good. I felt like I had a fever; I ached to the bone. I had a throbbing headache.
As we crossed the schoolyard, we spotted a woman leaning against the monkey bars with a baby in her arms. She looked unkempt–like she hadn’t slept for days. Megan approached her. Meg always had a smooth, graceful glide, but her stride was suddenly that of a concerned mother. She walked quickly toward the woman.
My phone buzzed. “Brian is calling me? He never calls.” I puzzled to myself…
“Everyone, huh? Jack? Arden? Oh yeah?… Even Richard?  Danielle, too? Yes, I will tell her. Nope. Both of us are fine. No problems here! I hope everyone feels better soon. Later Brian,” I almost sang into the phone.
“Megan…Stop!  We have an extension! Everyone is sick with this cold.” Damn elements… 

Trickster Smoke

Mamie Pound 

The sight of him, his profile against the setting sun, washed over her like a first drink, made her forget his danger and the things she’d done.

She watched him park and enter the diner. He chose a booth in the corner.

From the wad of bills, she fished a one-hundred, stuffed it in her purse and slammed the dented car door. The bell on the glass clanged as she entered.

“Hey,” she said and slid in across from him. 

He looked like he hadn’t slept in days. It suited him, somehow. The lines in his face had come to define his beauty. His eyes seemed bluer. 

“Where’ve you been?” he asked.

“Big snowstorm in Asheville,” she turned the empty coffee cup over and the waitress appeared, like magic. 

“You know what you want, Honey?” the cotton-candy-haired woman asked him, poured their coffee. 

“Not yet,” he said.  An embarrassing smile lit the waitress’s face. She lingered a beat too long and disappeared again. 

“Where is it?” he whispered. 

Lorelai smiled, poured a stream of white sugar into her drink.

“Ever notice how cold it is up in the mountains?” she blew into her coffee, set it on the Formica table and stirred, clanking the sides of the ceramic cup like a dull school bell. 

“Where’d you get the fur?” he asked. 

“Joey,” she said. 

“What a loser.”

She grinned.“Why do you care?’ 

“You know why.” He looked at her, shook his head. Outside the window, a young boy dropped from a set of monkey bars. 

“Ever regret it?” She asked. His eyes flashed back to her, then away. “I mean, the things you missed out on?” 

“Sometimes.” He signaled the waitress. “But then again, painful things remind me that I’m still alive.” His eyes darted at hers, like a dare. The waitress slipped the ticket on the table. 

Lorelai adjusted the white rabbit skin, to cover her bare shoulder. 

His truck was almost hidden at the back of the parking lot. They climbed in.

He cranked the engine and the glass fogged.

She handed him the money.

“You’re a hundred short,” he said.

“You’ll get it in Memphis,” she lit a cigarette. 

“That’s not the way it works.” 

She blew a long stream of blue smoke, cracked the window just enough for it to find a way out and crossed her arms.“There’s not a whole lot you can do about it now, is there?” 

He adjusted the radio and leaned close to her. The last wisps of clouds were black arrows, pointing toward the interstate. 

He slipped a hand between her knees, pressed his lips to the nape of her neck. 

A pregnant woman crossed in front of the truck. Lorelai watched as the man with her held the door for her, put his hand on the small of her back, ushered her into the warmth of the restaurant. 

She pushed him away.

“Lorelai…,” he pulled her closer. 

“I want to stay at the fancy place in Memphis,” she whispered, her watering eyes fixed on the impermeable windshield, clouded by  trickster smoke and the promises of a long-ago conversation.

Surprising Results

Richard Russell

Sitting alone in her high school parenting class, Sally Pritchard accepted the life-like baby doll from the parenting class teacher. With smirk of sarcasm, she thought, “Oh great! All I need is this baby doll to tote around all day everywhere I go.” Half the girls in class were assigned baby dolls to care for over the next month; the other half comprised a control group in this experimental “lesson” to curb teen pregnancies.

Sally struggled to carry her books, the baby, and all the baby accoutrements through the halls to and from classes, to her locker and everywhere else she went. She was surprised to find several girls boldly approached her with a keen interest in “the baby project”. They even offered to help her carry some of the baby doll’s things. In fact, many of the other kids in school began to talk to Sally more often. Other school girls would sit with her through lunch and they offered to help her “feed” the baby doll as they bombarded her with questions. What it was like to have to care for a baby 24/7? Sally basked in their rapt attention as she described all the demanding responsibilities of “motherhood”. She told them what it was like to be “tied-to” another person at all hours, day and night, everywhere she went, never any time to herself. She described getting no sleep for days when the baby cried all night, how the baby still had to be cared for even when she was fighting off a cold, and how she and her family pulled together to work around a schedule of the demanding responsibilities a baby brought with it. Changing diapers, feeding the baby on schedule, and laying it down for naps — it all took on a new perspective of enormous proportions.

When the month was over, all the baby dolls were returned. Sally’s life returned to “normal”. Once again, she was left to eat lunch by herself, drift aimlessly through the halls on swirling currents of social interactions, ride the noisy school bus home in a cocoon of silent solitude, and hover around the house ignored as if she was an invisible ghost.

Months went by; Sally was rarely seen around school. She had stopped eating lunch in the lunch room. She walked home alone, by herself, instead of riding the bus, and she stayed in the house most of the time. However, no one seemed to miss her.

Months later, some of the high school girls were hanging around the familiar old monkey bars on the kids’ playground near the high school when Sally walked up. They all went quiet for a moment once they saw her standing there. She was showing a definite “stomach” pressing against her blouse. In shock and amazement, they gathered around to fawn and dote over her, the way “friends” do. Sally smiled and basked in their attentiveness as they all wanted to touch her baby belly.

She had made the right decision … hadn’t she?

The Iron Writer Challenge #179 – 2016 Annual Championship

The Iron Writer Challenge #179

2016 Summer Solstice Challenge Championship

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Authors:

Alis Van Doorn, Mamie Pound, Dani J. Caile, Daniel J. Sanz, Tina Biscuit

The Elements:

Halloween Night

Apostrophe as an literary device

An orchard (you must state the type of orchard: apple, pear, peach, etc)

Metal doors on a school building

DuskMamie Pound

Mamie Pound

The invitation was hand written and wax sealed, slid under her door.

            “The pleasure of your company is requested.”

                               Halloween Night           

The directions led her down a twisting, wet trail, along the thick of the bayou. A late hurricane near the Keys bewitched the air, sent her hair flying all around, like one of the long-dead apparitions that appeared in the windows of the ruined hotels.

Tupelo Trees, standing knee-deep in in the brackish water, looked like skirted, gnarled, old women, sprouted from the underworld.

And the behemoth, orange moon seemed complicit.

Chills danced along her spine. A dark forboding tinged her every thought.

But just as all seemed lost, she spotted a small cabin at the edge of the water.

She knocked on its metal doors.

No one answered.

She drew her velvet cape closer and knocked again.

“Who’s there?” Said a voice, low and smokey.

Instead of answering, she shuddered, imagining the beasts swimming under the dock,

and banged again. The sound reverberated past her, into the wading trees, who swallowed it and zippered shut.

And now stood silent, watching and waiting.

The door slid open. Before her was a man with the blackest eyes she’d ever seen. Darker than the depths of the Mississippi.

“Hello.”

His accent reminded her of the dock traders and the bearded pirates that sailed into the harbor, their tongues, a music of French and Cajun.

His teeth were brilliant, white and pointy. And while his smile was wide, his eyes were solemn, arresting.

She couldn’t find her voice.

Behind him, three other men sat at a table, holding cards. A haze of blue smoke hung above their heads.

She blushed.

“Most people say ‘trick or treat’,” he said.

“I must be lost,” she stammered.

His house was dark, only a blazing fire in the hearth and candles, even at the card table.

“I must be at the wrong house. Are you…?”.

His dark beauty,…she was unable to look away.

“Leopold Lessinger.”

There was a razor nick just under his jawline, so beautifully placed, it almost seemed purposeful.

He raised a hand to cover it.

“Maybe I’ve made a mistake,” she said.

Electricity crawled across the sky, silhouetting the orchard of Spanish Moss hanging from the Cypress. Thunder rattled the glass.

“You got my invitation?” he asked.

“So it was you?” she said.

“I’ve been watching you for so long. I can’t believe you’re actually here.”

“Watching me?” She felt faint.

“I meant waiting for you…” he whispered and kissed her hand.

And she found herself unable to think of much of anything, except his beautiful mouth. She wanted to draw closer to this complete stranger. Wanted to inhale him.

Her mind raced with fear and an insatiable hunger, unknown to her before now.

“Oh, blackest night, what trickery have you played? What spell must have you allowed the moon, that I hunger for this madness, surrender to its will?”

Without any other word, he slipped his hand behind her neck.

And she did not try to stop him.

In the darkness, a Screech Owl’s desperate cry echoed across the water, disappeared into the night.

Little HyenasDaniel J. Sanz

Daniel J. Sanz

It was Monday morning and Conrad Brown’s fingers were already bleeding. He grimaced and clutched the ratty sponge in one hand and a can of mineral spirits in the other. His knees ached from the tile but the obscenity of the black marker had about scrubbed away.

He straightened under the protest of cascading crackles in his spine and wrapped a towel around his wrinkled fingers.

“Brats.”

His voice echoed between the lockers of the school hallway. He relished the graffiti free-wall while he could. Any moment these halls would be a stampede of self-entitled, ungrateful larvae and he could foresee himself scrubbing the wall again before the day’s end.

Flinging the towel into the trash, he gave the receptacle a satisfying kick before shuffling back to his custodial cart.

Pushing it past the scribblings of ghosts and jack-o-lanterns that adorned the walls, he stopped to pick up a black and orange streamer that had freed itself from its scotch-taped binding. He cracked a frown realizing today they would be dressed up as the little monsters they were, on a sugar high.

Conrad looked ahead to a giant cartoon mural sprawled across the yellow bricked wall. “Arlington Park Little Hyenas” arched overhead the titular mascot, adorned in a cowboy hat and a beaming grin.

“Oh how you mock me!”

Conrad glared at his imaginary adversary. “How you laugh at me! Judge me! Watch me waste away into this servitude!”

He used to love that hyena, years back when he bounced around these halls, but now he couldn’t stand its sight. It reminded him of a fonder time in which afternoons were spent riding bikes, playing stickball, and picking apples from Montgomery’s Orchard.

Conrad scoffed at the memory. “The only apples kids appreciate these days are made of plastic and glass.”

He leered at the hyena.

“I’ve had enough, I’m done!”

He looked down the hallway towards the exit.

“Why do I stay here? I should have quit a long time ago!”

He drew in a deep breath. All he had to do was walk through those doors and he was free.

But it was too late. They kicked open against their metal frames and the thunderous boom rolled over him chased by the hollers of the incoming hoard.

A flock of waist-high goblins, trolls, and witches flooded in, reeking of insubordination and Butterfingers. He closed his eyes and waited for them to pass. His only solace was the thought of freedom as he exited that door and ignored the sea of candy wrappers that was surely waiting for him.

Suddenly he felt a small tug on his arm. He glanced down and a little ladybug stood before him. A hyena-like smile spread across her red painted face. She held a box of mini cupcakes. Orange frosting with black sprinkles.

“Happy Halloween Mr. Brown!” She handed him one of the cakes and scrambled off.

The bell rang and the halls fell quiet. Conrad stood there, staring at the cupcake. He looked back at the mural and sighed.

“Well what’s the hurry?” he asked, crouching down to pick up a candy wrapper.

A Story of O

Tina Biscuit 

O bountiful orchard, flourishing well. We furrowed your rows, in days that have gone. We planted your seeds, and built three strong walls; the gates of the school completed the square. Now, they are rusted, remember their squeal. The burgeoning children, who poured out to play, they tended your whips, and nurtured your heart. The whips spread out branches, a new ring each year – so did the children, absorbing the light. They played in soft snow, which melted to blossom. They knocked off your buds, with frolics of summer. Soon came the autumn, you offered them fruit. Before apples fell, was Halloween time. First it was strange, you thought it was dark; faces were painted, so frightful, yet fun. Your halcyon days had barely begun. O orchard, you were so young. 

The river was filling, the reservoir full. The clouds were so black, obscuring the sky. The lightning discharged, forks tearing through gloom. Your fibrous roots trembled; the rumbling began: your trees were predicting, the deluge to come. The riverbanks burst, collapsing the church, torrential cascades tumbling through town. Houses were spilled, as though they were toys. We thought of the children, marooned in their class. Helpless we watched, and prayed for their lives: twelve children perished; twelve spirits lost. 

We buried small caskets, in your tender care. You were our last hope, which wasn’t enough. We left you as pasture, for travellers’ succour. We still come to visit, the graves of the past; we still bring you flowers, to show that we care. They brighten the spot, where nothing else thrives. Your walls are entwined, with ivy and moss. Our bodies are old; the trail is so long. 

O orchard, we miss them, on this hallowed night. We feel the dead rising, no longer with scorn. Those twelve, tiny mounds, rustling with leaves: the quilts you provided, keeping them snug. Their bones are so heavy; they struggle to run. They dreep from your branches, their cold fingers warm. Halloween songs purge water from lungs; cries become laughter, and pain becomes sun. They dance through your avenues, spreading joy as they go. Children cavorting, under canopies green, reclaiming memories, they laugh at the moon. The metal doors drum, as they bang them for fun. The teachers are gone now, and so is their school. Of course they don’t know that; we’re sure you won’t tell. Give them their night, to play in your boughs; shelter their innocence, and don’t tell a soul. 

The peduncle snaps; your last apple falls: no longer forbidden, forever unpicked.

Hell, Yeah!Dani-J-Caile

Dani J Caile

Me and the gang were having a good ol’ get together for Halloween night, just like when we were young. Tom couldn’t make it, he was on duty at the Police station, tonight of all nights, but Arthur, Dave, Andy and Josh filled the living room with their noisy, rowdy behaviour. Except Josh. He’d taken a seat by the window and stared out at the night sky, looking forlorn. Thankfully, there were no plans to revisit any apple bobbing like we did back in ’99 after stealing a basketful from Mr. Wilson’s apple orchard down on Church street, but we were going Trick-or-Treating.

“Eh, Bob! I’ve got your costume here!” said Andy, throwing a Wonder Woman top into my face as I entered from the kitchen. Arthur and Dave had already chosen theirs; Batman and Robin, respectively. Andy was Superman, of course.

“Why do I get to wear the girly costume?” I asked, throwing them a few cans of beer. I attempted to pass one to Josh but he was oblivious to what was going on around him. A crumpled Spiderman outfit lay next to him on the sofa.

“Because you’re a girl!” screamed Andy, accompanied by laughter from the other two. The boys chinked their cans together and drank. Josh broke their silence.

“Oh, Moon, rise and let your cooling light douse my burning heart of pain; if you pity me, seize my desires, my hopes and smash them to the stars of the night!” whined Josh.

“What’s his problem?” I asked. Out of the five of us, Josh was the smartest, but unfortunately looked like a monkey’s arse.

“He fell in love with ‘you-know-who’,” said Dave. He wiped beer from his mouth and chest bumped Arthur.

“But she’d never go out with him,” I said. Andy dived on me and forced a long, black wig onto my head.

“Tell him that,” said Dave.

“Oh great, that’s all we need on Halloween night, a bleeding heart!” said Andy.

“Quiet, he might hear you,” I said, swapping my costume for his. Before anyone objected, I was Spidey.

“So? Are we ready to go out on the town?” screamed Andy.

“Hell Yeah!” we cheered.

*****

I counted four, including myself.

“Where’s Josh?” I asked. Something was bashing the inside of my head with a sledgehammer. “Anyone seen him?”

“Not me,” said Arthur, a hollow voice coming from the bowl of the toilet.

“I thought he was with you,” said Andy. Dave was still zonked out on the sofa with some green vegetable stuck up the back of his trousers. A mobile phone rang, it was Andy’s. After searching, we found it under a pile of empty cans in the corner.

“Yeah? Uh-huh? Oh. Right.” Andy dropped his phone in his pocket and headed for the door.

“Who was that?” I asked.

“It was Tom.”

“What does he want?” asked Arthur from the bowl.

“He wants to know why Josh is dressed up as Wonder Woman, completely drunk, moaning on about some ‘moonrise’ and chained to the metal doors of our old school building. Anyone coming with me?”

Oh, Brother!Alis Van Doorn

Alis VanDoorn

“Lily, hurry up!” called Lily’s mother, voice just this side of pleasant. Lily gave a final twirl to her hot pink troll hair point, pleased with her adorable troll dress, creatively shortened a bit, the matching tights, gave her pointed troll slipper boots a blissful smile, and her mind full of Sam’s reaction, sailed downstairs, all fetching troll glory.

“Lily! Now!” Her mother’s voice now on the other side of pleasant.

“Coming!” She troll pranced onto the front porch, stopped short. “Riley! Where’s your troll costume?”

An eight year old scary clown puffed out his chest and said “I’m too old for that. I’m a killer clown! I’ll scare everybody!”

“Well, where’s your candy pail?”

The small killer clown slapped his forehead and raced off to get it.

“Lily, I know you planned on meeting your friends after trick or treating, but you’ll need to stay with Riley afterwards, answer the door.” “Daddy’s working late, he won’t be home till about nine.”

“But why can’t you be here? It’s Halloween! It’s not fair!”

“I’ll be at the rectory, tomorrow’s All Saints. Just catch up with them after the bonfire.”

Realizing argument was futile, Lily sighed dramatically, the sigh of put upon 16 year olds everywhere.

Joining the neighborhood trick or treaters, a sixteen year old troll doll, a tiny killer clown, walked hand in hand.

Dark fell, and soon they were home, diving into candy, answering the door.

By nine thirty, still alone; Lily was getting anxious. She’d have to catch up with everyone by short-cutting through the old apple orchard to the abandoned school. Not her favorite way, spooky even on clear summer nights. If she didn’t leave now, Sam wouldn’t get to see her costume. Which was the whole point.

Lily looked at Riley, currently on a sugar high.

“Riley, I need to leave now, I’ll barely make it even cutting through the orchard. Promise you’ll stay here, not answer the door until Daddy gets home?”

Riley nodded, Lily turned off the porch lights, locked the door and took off running, never noticing the tiny killer clown following.

As Lily reached the orchard, the moonlight dimmed. “Come on, don’t be such a baby.” Lily told herself, trying to ignore an increasing dread. Lily picked up the pace, certain she heard branches moving.

Suddenly she stopped, hearing something behind her. To her left she saw a pair of glowing red eyes, shrieked, took off running.

Just then she heard a desperate little voice choke out “Lil, wait!”

Lily turned, a tiny, terrified killer clown running, sobbing into her arms. “Lil, there’s something back there, something bad. We gotta hide.”

Picking him up, Lily ran for the school, hoping to make it around the side to the open field and bonfire. But the bonfire was out, the field deserted. Frantically she looked for a hiding place. Suddenly she saw a pair of metal doors in the ground leading to the basement. Dropping Riley, Lily yanked hard to no avail. They were stuck.

“Lil.” Riley was pointing behind her, finger shaking.

Lily turned around slowly.

Something was there, impossible to see, equally impossible to miss the menace that seemed to shiver the air.

“Leave us alone! Whatever you are, you are not getting my brother or me! Now go, go back to the cemetery. I banish you in the name of all that’s holy, good and true, go now or face your due.”

Suddenly, the air was clear again, the moon came out from the clouds and Lily and Riley ran.

They took the long way.

#TIWC members, please vote here.

 

 

 

The Iron Writer Challenge #177, 2016 Autumn Equinox Challenge Championship Preliminary Round, Richard North Patterson Bracket

The Iron Writer Challenge #177

2016 Autumn Equinox Challenge Championship

Preliminary Round

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

 The Elements:

A kid playing a banjo to a dog
Bullying 
A limit
A life in danger

The Brackets:

richardnorthpatterson

Richard North Patterson Bracket

Mamie Pound, Geoff Gore, Phil Blaiklock, Alis Van Doorn

Deserted Life with StarsMamie Pound

Mamie Pound

The van was parked in front of the school, one wheel on the sidewalk. Early morning sunlight shone through the enormous glazed doughnut mounted on top.

“Ever wish you could just run away?” she asked, arranging cruellers.

“Nah,” he said, opened box of cream-filled.

“Never?” she watched him align styrofoam cups on the gymnasium table.

He shook his head. “Donna’s great.”

“I’m not talking about freakin’ Donna,” she hissed. He pushed his glasses up and looked at her. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

“You okay?”

“I’m bored out of my mind,” she said.

“Why don’t you change jobs?” he asked, straightening his shirt.

Why don’t you change jobs?” she mocked him with the voice she reserved for her sister.

He looked at her.

“My doctor gave me this pill, helps keep me calm.” He dug in his pocket, held up a tiny white pill. “With insurance, they’re three dollars each.”

She dug in her purse. The little bottle was half empty. She poured it into her coffee.

“Hey!” he looked around. A couple of sixth graders faced them from the bleachers.“Not cool.”

“Rob, I’ve got a joint in my purse. You’re gonna go out back and smoke it with me.”

The sixth grade teacher approached.

“Mrs. Whitman, may I make you a drink?” Nancy grinned.

Rob rolled his eyes.

“Golly, no. I’ve had two cappuccinos, already,” she smiled. “The talent show is starting, a banjo-dog act. So, we need to hurry.”

“Sure,” Nancy said, chugged the coffee.

The teacher walked away.

“Are you kidding me?” Rob said.

“Nobody said it was going to be like this, Rob.”

“It was in the catering order.”

“I don’t mean the cater, Rob. I mean life.”

“You’re acting crazy. Life is fine,” he said.

“Yeah, fine. If you like a field of neutered dreams. I want to float the Ganges, hang out in Katmandu, sleep in the desert.”

“Kind of risky,” he said.

“We are 45. Even if we live to be really old, it’s half over. We are coordinating powdered sugar and lemon-filled.”

“I need the insurance.”

“Then what, Rob? Prescription drugs, 25 more years of house payments and our teeth fall out?”

“I’m perfectly happy,” he said, crossed his arms.

“Really? I thought you always wanted to sleep in the Atacama, too?”

He smiled, stared out the gymnasium window.“You can see more stars there, than anywhere else on earth. But, it’s too late for all that.”

“So, you’re satisfied, a carcass of your former self, an empty cup, blowing across a school yard?” she said.

From nowhere, the teacher appeared. “Excuse me? We’re not paying you people to talk.” Her smile widened for emphasis.

Rob unloaded all the little milks on a table. Nancy waited in the van.

“Feel better?” he asked, slamming the passenger door.

“Soon enough.” She steered the van past school buses, onto the interstate, turned up the radio.

“I always thought the Clash should’ve made one more album.”

“Yeah,” he said.

The gigantic glazed doughnut disappeared south along the highway, right past their exit.

Smaller and smaller, until it seemed like just another day.

BuddyGeoff Gore

Geoff Gore

My name is Richard D’Angelo. Good folks call me Ricky, but the bad ones call me Dick and not because they like me. Most people don’t like me. That’s ok though, cos the bad people go away. I don’t know where they go exactly. They just go. Mom says people don’t like me cos I think different, on account of my disorder. She says I’ve got a special talent, but that doesn’t explain why so many people end up going away. Except Buddy, Buddy never goes away. He’s my friend. That’s why I called him Buddy. Buddy likes it when I play my banjo to him. Even my special tune, the one that makes the bullies disappear.

I remember the first time Buddy arrived at our house. Daddy had been drinking heavy and I remember him coming home late & getting all riled up ‘bout not being able to afford to feed us, let alone takin in stray dogs. There was hollering coming from downstairs. He and Mom was yelling at each other. Then there was a ‘whack’ and next thing I remember, was seeing Mom lying on the floor with her mouth bleeding and Dad standing over her reaching for one of his golf clubs. I never stopped to consider that maybe her life was in danger. Something just made me pick up my old banjo and start playing. Daddy went away after that.

*****

Look at him, that weird kid from that place on the hill. Sitting there playing that damn banjo like he owns the place. Him and that mange ridden mutt. Just sitting there. Jesus why can’t he shut that thing up? Must be the most unholy sound I’ve ever heard in my entire life. Local council’s got limits against that sort of stuff, right?

“Hey! Peckerhead!” I yell to him as I cross the road. I’ll shut that creepy little jerk up, scare him good so he never comes back round here again. Maybe I’ll smash that damn demonic noise maker over his crazy little head. But as I get closer he just sits and stares and keeps playing that infernal banjo. There’s something about that tune. Kinda hypnotic. All of a sudden I don’t really feel like bashing his little head in no more. I feel kinda drowsy, like I’m…floating. But underneath, it feels kinda creepy. And the whole time that crazy mutt of his has got its eyes focused, its stare never leaving mine. Then without warning the kid stops playing that tune. That tune. That’s when I really noticed the red glow in that dog’s eyes. It starts to growl. Guttural, like something…supernatural. I can’t stop staring into that red light right in its eyes. I get this cold feeling, like my insides have frozen. I’ve heard other people describe that feeling, like when a dying man is bleeding out. And there’s that light in that mutts eyes. And that tune. I try to scream. But nothing’s there anymore. It’s like…I’m gone.      

Disability

Philip Blaiklock

I changed to that crappy station. Some kid was playing a banjo to a dog, in grainy black and white. The only other interesting channel I got was home shopping.

I’d been wallowing on the couch for hours, and really needed a shower. But that whole standing up straight part hurt like hell.

I propped myself up enough to glance out the window. I hoped my rich ‘neighbor’ across the street was gone for the day. But no. His yellow Porsche was still parked on his 37th floor roof, reminding me how badly I’d screwed up my life.

I reached for the Oxycontin on my coffee table. Doctor’s limit was two a day. This was number two. At least I had that discipline.

A flash of white light blinded me and knocked me back. A tall man materialized. His bald head was silver, his suit was silver, his everything was silver. He pensively tapped his head, then pointed at me. “Your life is in danger.”

“Who … who are you?”

He took a drink from a flask in his other hand. He sniffed. “Your blanket smells terrible.”

“So what?”

“That’s the thing. You’re overweight but healthy. Your soul is dying.”

“I must be dreaming,” I said, reaching for the Oxy. He swatted me away. “No. This is the day you stop running.”

Running? Do you even know why I’m injured?”

“You had a forklift accident working at Costco. You backed into a tower of Act-II Popcorn, which fell on you.” He paused, took a long swig. “Nobody knows it was your fault.”

I sat up, feeling a stab of pain. “How did you kno—”

“I’m a silver man from the astral plane, you idiot. I’m reading your mind. Why was it your fault?”

“Because … ” I felt so guilty. “I knew my boss wanted to talk, and I saw him walking up while I was working the lift. I thought he had bad news. I panicked.”

Silver man took another swig. “Ahhh, yes.”  

“Are you talking to me, or the bottle? What’s in that anyway?”

“Mind your business.”

“Then maybe you should too.” Somehow, someway, I stood up to this bully. “Get the hell out of my apartment!” I cried, fighting excruciating pain.

Silver man smiled. “Better. Much better. For once in your life you’ve stood up for yourself. Now, go do something you love— wait a minute.” He looked away and tapped his forehead again. “Really?” A golden scroll materialized in his other hand. He opened it and read. “Damn. I have the wrong block.”

“What?”

He folded the scroll away. “Sorry dude. Ignore everything I said.” And with that, he vanished.

I looked around in a frenzy. I looked out the window. Silver man materialized in front my neighbor’s yellow Porsche.

I’d been standing the whole time. My back didn’t hurt as much. I thought a while. I grabbed my cane, and took the elevator down. For the first time in months, I stood outside. The sun hit my face, and I smiled.

I hailed a cab and asked for the nearest music store selling banjos.

Boxcar FortyAlis Van Doorn

Alis Van Doorn

Fortescue watched as the world flew by, afternoon fading into dusk, the clickity clack train sound soothing, unnerving. Pulling Finley close, he buried his face in Finley’s soft neck ruff. His stomach rumbled, he felt Finley give a shiver, whine softly

“How ‘bout supper, Finn, then the music of vagabonds and tramps?”

Finn barked his agreement to this excellent plan. Forty pulled out two sandwiches, carefully tore one in half, gave it to Finn, and they devoured their meager supper. Companionably splitting a bottle of water, they felt, if not full, much more cheerful.

Forty began to strum his banjo; he was learning, teaching himself and Finley howled along. Soon both runaways were fast asleep.

Suddenly the train screeched to a halt. Fortescue, waking, went on high alert, worried they had been discovered.

“Quiet Finn!”

Finn, who hadn’t uttered a peep, gave him an indignant look. They ooched themselves back into the far corner of the boxcar, which limited visibility, but seemed safer.

The train began to move, and as both relaxed, a large dark shadow appeared and their empty boxcar shuddered and vibrated. Finley and Fortescue froze.

“Who’s there?” a deep, melodious voice demanded, at odds with the harshness in its tone.

Fortescue swallowed, tried to deepen his voice, said “Just Boxcar Forty, Sir and his Vicious Canine Companion.” Finn growled menacingly.

“What’s this vicious animal called?” asked the still shadowy stranger.

“Finley William Smith, Sir.”

Fortescue thought he heard smothered laughter from the direction of the dark shadow.

“Quite a distinguished civilized name for such a vicious beast.”

“Well, two names are family names. And he’s only vicious with bad people. Otherwise he’s quite a gentleman.” Finley sniffed in agreement.

“And your name?”

Fortescue stiffened. “I told you. It’s Forty, Sir.

“So, Forty William Smith, then?” said the stranger gently.

“Fortescue William Smith.” mumbled Forty.

“Well, as it happens, my name is also William. Tell me how you and Finley happen to be riding this boxcar, all alone.”

Forty held Finn tight, and said in one rush of breath “We’re orphanage kids, no parents, they’re dead, I’m bullied at school cause of my name, I’m an orphan, my clothes are too small an’ I just reached my limit. Nobody wants us, we’ve run away to find luck and fortune.”

“I see.” said William quietly.

Forty, Finn looked into a weathered face, tempered by intelligence, kindness. Finn, satisfied, curled up close to Forty.

William said “You’ve been brave, courageous, but your lives are in danger. This is my railroad line, I’m riding this boxcar to catch a dangerous man, who’s been using this rail line, traveling between towns. There’s reason to believe he’ll be hopping this very car, next stop. Had you been here alone, you wouldn’t have left this boxcar alive.

Hours later, a murderer led away handcuffed, limping, yelling about a hound of hell, Finn and Forty sleeping, William woke them, asked “How’d you like to go home?’

Finley barked a “yes, please!” Forty looked up doubtfully.

“I’ve called the orphanage, talked to the director. You’re staying with me. Both of you. You’re home now”

Fortescue and Finley William Smith howled with happiness.

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