The Iron Writer Challenge #193 – 2017 Spring Equinox Tournament Preliminary Round

The Iron Writer Challenge #193

2017 Spring Equinox Tournament

Preliminary Round

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Authors:

Danielle Lee Zwissler, Richard Russell, Keith Badowski, Malissa Greenwood,

Dani J. Caile, Michael Cottle, Tina Biscuit, Vance Rowe, E. Chris Garrison,

Josh Flores, David Jobe, Steven L. Bergeron, Amy Kasim, Bethany Totten,

Geoff Gore, Maureen Larter, Emma Crowley, Mamie Pound, Matt Henderson

Note: This year, the tournament submissions will be blind, hence the author’s name will not be shown until after a champion has been chosen.

The Elements:

A Lady in a clothes dryer

Menstrual Cramps

A Hairbrush without bristles

A Wooden Hanger

Put Out to Dry

Maureen Larter

Maria stood in front of her wardrobe and gazed at the contents. Lifting her arm limply she moved the wooden hangers from one side to the other, looking at each dress as she did so.

Nothing appealed.

She stopped again and stared into space. How could she have ever imagined she would have ended up in this weird situation?

She silently shook her head.

She had been arrested, then freed on bail and now she needed to ready herself for the trial. It was all surreal – beyond belief.

To make matters worse, she couldn’t remember that night. Found unconscious, covered in blood and stuffed into the local laundry’s clothes drier was bad enough, but the body of her husband, stabbed to death on the floor of the same laundry was worse.

She sighed as she once more tried to make a decision on her appearance. As she reached for the little black dress that everyone said was always a correct fashion statement, she felt the cramp. She rubbed her stomach as she realized, once more, she would get her monthlies. Not pregnant! She had so hoped to be, but now Ed was dead, there would be no hope of a reminder of her marriage to him.

She picked out the dress and turned to place it on the bed, catching a glimpse of her appearance in the dressing-table mirror.

Her eyes were sad and red, her face deep with wrinkles from the worry, and her hair looked like she’d brushed it with a hairbrush with no bristles. She sank down on the rumpled bedspread and put her head in her hands. How was she going to get through today – the next month – in fact, the rest of her life?

She shuddered.

The horror of the crime overwhelmed her.

The shame she felt was daunting.

After several minutes, she stood and took a deep breath. She ran her fingers through her spiky hair, wiped away the tears that had slipped down her cheeks without her realizing it, and picked up the dress to get ready.

She had to face the trial whatever the outcome, but she knew her brother would be in prison for a very long time.

Laundry and Lattes

Malissa Greenwood

Dani pulled into a parking spot along Elm and quickly checked her reflection. She dug through the glovebox, her hand finally grasping the paddle of her brush. She pulled it out and found there were no bristles left on the old piece of plastic.

“Piece of shit.” She muttered and threw it on the floor, opting instead to pull her messy hair into a clip.

She rubbed on some chap stick, sighed at the new reflection and lifted the visor before exiting her unmarked sedan.

It had been a long, interesting morning. Dani had been called in to investigate a murder scene at a south side laundromat. A woman had been found stuffed into a dryer, brutally beaten beforehand.

The scene was gruesome. Signs of an obvious struggle. Wooden hangers scattered around a pool of blood and black stilettos.

Dani shook the images out of her head as she stopped on her way up the steps and bent down, briefly struck by the usual, uncomfortable pangs of PMS. She didn’t want coffee – she wanted to be home, laying down with an ice pack on her abdomen and a double scoop of Ben and Jerry’s.

But instead she was walking up the steps towards the small coffee shop to meet her on-again off-again boyfriend, Rick. He’d texted her with an urgent request to meet him and when she tried to brush him off he only became more insistent.

She knew what this would be about and she was certain it could have been handled over the phone. They’d been trying to be ‘on-again’ for a while now, but they both knew it wasn’t working. And they both knew it was her fault.

He was sitting by the far window looking at his phone, but he put it away when he saw her approach.

“Hey.” It was more of a sigh than a greeting. “I got you a latte.”

“Thanks.” She flashed him an exhausted smile, and took the warm cup.

“So… How are you? I haven’t been able to catch you alone for a while.”

“Yeah, I know. Just a string of rough cases. We got a new one this morning, too. Jane Doe…” she trailed off – she could tell he was tired of her excuses.

“Listen Dani… There’s someone else.”

“Cutting right to the chase, huh? Well I can’t say I’m surprised.”

“I’m sorry. I really wanted things to work this time. But I’m just not cut out for your lifestyle. It’s too much. I’m not…”

“Yeah.” She cut him off; He wasn’t the only one tired of excuses. “Who is she?”

He hesitated, then said “Her name is Kim. You don’t know her. She’s not a cop. She’s… boring. And normal. And… I just think that’s what I need right now.”

“Yeah… I get it, Rick.” She did get it. Sometimes she wished her life was a little more boring.

He pulled out his phone and frowned. “Look I gotta go. I’m sorry.”

“Off to meet Kim, now that you’re a free man?” she tried smiling, hoping it came off more friendly than bitchy.

He nodded. “Yeah. We’re gonna go do laundry.”

Warmth

Josh Flores

“Push out now Judith!”

Judy found herself again in this awkward situation.  Her curse of small stature and slight build gave her no end to troubles. Her eighty pound, four foot four inch body fit nice and comfy in the industrial-size, front-loaded, dual-rotation, three-speed, apartment-complex laundromat clothes-dryer. A woman of routine, she’d do her washing and drying on Sunday after midnight.  It helped relieve some of the embarrassment of having to wrestle with the big machines. This way, it wasn’t in front of her neighbors.

She swore the dryer was out to get her.  It never failed to keep one of her intimate articles way in the back of its drum, forcing her to climb in to retrieve it. No doubt about it, the machine had some reason for doing this regularly.  Getting in was easy enough: pull a chair over, stand on it, and crawl inside the gaping mouth waiting to swallow her.  Steamy, moist air would greet her, envelope her in welcomed warmth. Her body would curl up as she fought to control the spin of the cylinder her every move created.

The churning brought to mind menstrual cramps.  How her womb use to churn to and fro, twist and spin, causing huge pains.  She hadn’t had the experience in the few months since conceiving. “Guess that’s one good thing about it.”  Judy groped in the dusk, until her hand found the panty and bra victims. In her blouse they went for safe-keeping. Now came the hard part: getting out.

After weeks of struggling, Judy thought long and came up with a plan. She came prepared this time with a pouch tied to her waist. Judith opened the pouch and pulled out a wooden clothes hanger with a wire neck and a wooden brush with its bristles removed. She returned the brush – that was for the final phase of escape. She looked up to find the air holes in the drum. Judy worked with practiced ease as she slipped the wire neck of the hanger through one hole and out the one directly behind it. With small hands made strong by years of compensating for her lack of build, Judy grabbed the hanger turned herself around slowly.  She then removed the hanger, found another pair of holes a few inches away and repeated the anchoring. Using the hanger as support she inched herself towards the opening.

Reaching the doorway, Judith pulled out the bristleless brush. She rammed the handle in between the drum and right side of the opening to stabilize and to create another hand grip.  With one hand gripping the wood of the hanger and the other on the brush she gathered her strength.  “Push out now Judith!” With one mighty pull of her arms she swung her legs out the door and let herself dangle for a moment – then she released her grip, letting herself land on the chair.

Judy turned to close the dryer. The hushed rush of air escaping, to her mind’s ear, sounded like a resigned sigh.

PMS (Potential Murder Suspect)

Geoff Gore

Detective O’Malley wearily pushed open the door to the laundromat. Between the Midtown homicide and the divorce with his ex, he hadn’t slept much the past three days. Both had been messy. As for the murder, it must’ve been one hell of a frenzied attack, the victim a male in his mid-forties, was almost unrecognisable. There was blood all over the apartment, but not a shred of evidence of the attacker. No prints, no stray hair, no sign of forced entry. Nothing. It was as if whoever’d done this had been through that apartment with a fine tooth comb, painstakingly scrubbing away any trace they’d been there. And yet, so much blood everywhere.  Now on top of it all his ex-wife was threatening to bleed him dry. Hence here he was, at the end of the fourth day of a homicide enquiry, reduced to doing his own laundry at a cheap laundromat on the lower side of town.

He sat in front of one of the big machines and saw he wasn’t alone. A woman leaned into one of the oversized dryers retrieving her laundry. A copy of the morning’s newspaper lay on the seat next to her. The front page headline screamed MURDER! The article critical that Police had no leads in a case O’Malley was all too familiar with.

The woman emerged from the dryer. She looked up, and jumped, startled when she saw O’Malley standing there in his uniform.

“Sorry Ma’am. I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

“You should be more careful,” she snapped, “creeping up on people like that.”

“Sorry Ma’am, I’m just here for my laundry.”

“Sorry,” she replied, “I didn’t mean to snap, “It’s just…” she placed a hand lightly on her abdomen. “You know…some months the cramps that make me a little…tetchy.”

“Tetchy?” He glanced at the open newspaper on the seat between them. “I understand. You reading about the case?” “No.” She said curtly. She retrieved the newspaper, folded it and tucked it on top of her basket of clothes. “Though the no good sonofabitch probably deserved it.” She turned, leaning all the way into the dryer to retrieve something else.

“Let me help.”

“I can manage.” She emerged holding a white men’s shirt.

He grabbed a wooden hangar from the rack. “At least let me help you hang it up.”

“I said, I’m FINE!” She barked.

“Okay,” he held up his hands.

As she hung the shirt over the hangar he couldn’t help noticing a small red blemish which hadn’t quite washed out from the fabric and the faint stain beneath her fingernails.

She blushed and hurried to pack the remainder of her things into the basket. On top she placed an old hair brush, so worn that all the bristles had fallen out, and headed for the door.

“Not so fast, Ma’am,” said a voice behind her.

She stopped and turned.

Detective O’Malley held out a lonely sock that had fallen to the floor. “There’s always one,” he said.

Down in Little India, Southall, London

Dani J. Caile

“Mrs Hatherwaite! What in hell’s name are you doing?” said Darshit, walking into his laundromat to see legs dangling from his largest clothes dryer. He knew they were hers from the bulging blue varicose veins. And no one else did their laundry at this time of night, either.

“I’m keeping warm, it’s lovely and cosy in here,” giggled Mrs Hatherwaite.

“Get out of there this insta… oh my!” The sight froze his blood. Thankfully, not much light could penetrate into the contraption, but from what he saw in the second before he closed his eyes, he could only describe her as completely naked. “Mrs Hatherwaite, why are you not wearing anything?”

“Well, the sign does say ‘When finished washing, please remove all clothes’,” laughed Mrs Hatherwaite.

With some brief glimpses, he saw she was drinking from a wine bottle.

“Mrs Hatherwaite! Not only are you naked in one of my clothes dryers, but you are also drinking!”

“Oh, this? Drinking? It’s only my third! Fancy some?” She offered the bottle but Darshit refused.

“Mrs Hatherwaite, you can’t get… ‘drunk naked’ in one of my clothes dryers!” What was he to do?

“I’ve got my menstrual cramps, red wine always helps… hey, ‘Darshit’! Come on in, I’ll take you for a spin,” laughed Mrs Hatherwaite. She reached out and took his collar, pulling him closer.

“Mrs Hatherwaite! Please!” Fighting back, his right hand found something on the top of the machine and he brought it down to use against the insane woman. It was a hairbrush… without bristles. He made a mental note to take some time out of his busy schedule to clean the place up a little. An unexpected kick made him drop the useless item and he blindly searched for something else as he struggled on. His hand found a wooden hanger.

“Come on, ‘Darshit’, take a spin with me!” She was strong for her age and Darshit couldn’t resist for much longer. In a momentary flash of inspiration, he put the wooden hanger into the back of his coat, thus stopping her from taking his shoulders in. She persisted for a few more minutes, but he’d won the battle and she let go. “Oh, you’re no fun!”

At that moment, Darshit’s wife walked in. As usual, her phone was clasped to her ear while she rabbited on with her sister, so she didn’t notice him pushing Mrs Hatherwaite’s blue veined legs into the dryer and closing the door.

“Hello dear,” said Darshit, trying to look ‘normal’. His wife put her phone down for a second. Before she spoke, a noise came from the dryer.

“You spin me right round, baby right round…”

“What is that?” asked Darshit’s wife.

“Err, nothing, dear. Just the radio… in the back room,” said Darshit, resting his elbow on the dryer’s door.

“Oh. Well, don’t hang around here all night, I want you back home in ten minutes,” she ordered, leaving the way she came, with her phone to her ear.

Darshit knew it would be one crazy ten minutes.

Snipe Hunting

David Jobe

“It’s obvious. Isn’t it? Double homicide involving a vampire.”

“Hold on. What?” Officer Jimmy Timms stopped tapping a wooden hanger that he had been playing with. “Vampire?”

“What do you see sticking out of the man’s chest, Jimmy?”

Jimmy knelt down beside the corpse. “All I see is a hair brush that someone has plucked out all the bristles.”

Officer Monty Lanton chuckled. “Way to see the forest for the trees, Jimmy. It’s a stake. You know, wooden spike through the heart? Hand-made. Obviously. Look at his pants. Tweed. Sooo last century.”

“Vampire? You get that a lot around here.” Jimmy crossed his arms across his chest. He glanced around at the rest of the team.

They looked back at him with silent and serious faces.

Lanton shrugged. “It doesn’t happen that often, no. I think I’ve seen maybe two, three, times since I started the late shift.” He looked to the coroner, Carrie-Anne who held up three fingers. “Three. Now, sure. Could be this is just a case of mistaken identity? Maybe. But with things like these, you have to be careful.”

Jimmy shook his head. “Not buying it. You’re messing with me.”

Lanton frowned. “Are you suggesting we staged a murder scene?”

Jimmy looked to each, eyes narrowing. “Fine. I’ll play along. What do we do next? Call Van Helsing?”

“That kind of stuff will get you killed, Jimmy. You can’t believe all the stuff you see on television, man. The first step is to have Carrie-Anne get the deceased male into the van and down to the morgue. Best to just burn him tonight to be safe. It will mean we spend all night tomorrow filing paperwork for the screw-up, but we can’t just risk him coming back. Plus, there is the woman to contend with. Could be she might turn soon. Problem is she probably has family. Can’t just burn her.”

“Wait. Wait! This is crazy! Why would you think she’d turn? She not even bitten.”

“Not on the neck, Jimmy. Again. Television. Do you see the inside of her thigh? The leg not hanging out of the dryer?”

Jimmy leaned in to expect the body of the woman stuffed in an industrial clothes dryer. “I thought. Well, you know.” He looked at Carrie-Anne and blushed.

“That it’s her time of the month? She died of cramps? You’ve never had a live-in girlfriend, have you, Jimmy? That’s way too much blood for that. Go with Carrie-Anne to get the gurney.”

“Fine.”

After Jimmy had moved out of earshot, Lanton leaned down near the opening of the dryer. “You ready?”

Elanor Millie opened her eyes and offered a smile that revealed fake fangs. “You swap out his gun?”

“Isn’t my first time, Elanor.” Lanton cast a glance over his shoulder. “It’s a prop. Tasers drained and the night-stick is gorilla glued in its holster. Don’t trip over Grimm. He’s sensitive.”

On the ground, the staked man muttered profanities.

“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this,” she said. “Next time, just dinner and a movie.”

“Your fault for asking what I do for fun.”

Two Loads Washin’

Michael Cottle

I’ve lived a long time- almost 84 years now. I’ve seen many things in those years. I’ve seen beautiful things. I’ve seen sad things. And, I’ve seen folks do downright crazy things. But never anything like I did in 94’.

It was Saturday, the 19th of February, and I was headed to the laundromat. I could’ve just bought a washer, but truth is I liked the company. You see, my wife passed in the fall of 93’, and sometimes I needed to get out of the house.

Now most folks at the laundromat weren’t there to do no socializing. I understood this, but while their clothes were a washing, most of ‘em didn’t mind passing the time with an old fool like me.

This Saturday morning was not good visiting for I hadn’t seen a soul all morning. My two loads were almost dry and I had my wooden hangers out on the folding table just about ready to go. That’s when Miss Mary showed up.

You might think it odd, but this ain’t who I felt like socializing with. That woman hated me since the time she first laid eyes on me. Now I hadn’t done a thing in the world to the crazy ole bitty.

Anyways, she was slinging clothes and washing powders around like she was too good to wash clothes or something. I think she was born with the menstrual cramps, but Lord knows I didn’t do nothing to her I tell you. Now listen awhile and I might tell you again.

She messed around and got a fancy looking blouse hung in the coin slot of the washing machine. I heard the biggest ruckus that you could imagine as she started saying things that would make an oil field worker blush!

The next thing I know, she gave that blouse a snatch and buttons went flying. She fell backwards over a hamper of her own dirty clothes and straight into the dryer basket behind her! There was nothing but high heels sticking out of that machine.

Being a gentleman and all, there was nothing for me to do, but go help the crazy lady out of that thing. I asked her if she wanted permanent press or high cotton as I gave her my hand. I thought I was fixing to get eaten alive! First look, there was a bit of anger, and then she started laughing a little. But before it was over and by the time she was out, she started to cry. My heart just melted. You see, like me, she had just lost her husband too. In no time at all, we were in that laundromat laughing like kids. Turns out, she wasn’t near crazy as I thought she was.

You see, I’ve seen some downright crazy things in my time. But I’ll never forget how I met my second and last wife. We got our own washer and dryer these days. I don’t know how much more time we got left, but I’ll tell you one thing. If I hadn’t met Miss Mary, I’d be a hairbrush without the bristles.

Claustrophobic Cloud Nine

Emma Crowley

The bristles of the brush tinkled against the steel lining of the clothes dryer as she brushed them off of her stomach, the distorted handle of the now toothless brush clutched tightly in her fist. She sighs as she turns the brush over between her fingers, watching the sharp edges of the plastic draw thin white lines against her skin. The ridges of the machines tumbler shove back against her spine, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the deep throbbing in her abdomen, so she ignores it.

“Did you get it yet?” A voice floats into the laundry room, tossed back and forth by the noise of the vibrations of the washing machine hard at work to the right of the dryer in which the girl had found refuge. She twists her neck painfully to look down at the wooden hanger wedged between the rotating tumbler and the metal at the back of the machine, speckled with soapy residue. If she were to actually try, she would be able to free the hanger in a minute or so, but that would mean that she would have to leave the dryer.

“Not yet,” she calls back, wincing slightly as the volume of her shout echoes loudly around the interior of the dryer. “It really seems to be stuck in there.”

She had no way of explaining it, but somehow contorting her body into the claustrophobic tumbler of the dryer calmed the persistent pain in her abdomen. It worked, that’s all that mattered.

“Well hurry up,” the voice replies, exasperated. The girl rolls her eyes, pressing the palms of both hands against her lower stomach. Something about the dryer, knees scrunched up to her chest, made her feel safe, almost like returning to the womb. Ironic, she chuckles into the darkness of the machine, when her own womb was the reason for her cramming herself into such a tiny space.

Maybe her uterus had fallen asleep in the relaxing calm of the dryer, postponing its scheduled torture for a quick nap. That was something the girl could understand, her own eyes struggled to stay open. Maybe for a moment, she and her body could work as one to reach the dimensions of rest.

“What are you even doing?” The girl’s eyes snap open as a figure storms into the laundry room, a basket of dirty clothes tucked under one arm. The figure wears a scowl across her face as she glares down at the figure curled in the machine. “Didn’t you hear me say I had laundry to do? Go lounge in your own bed.”

Almost. The girl had almost found a moment of peace. She lets out a disappointed sigh as she yanks the wooden hanger roughly out of it’s trap, tossing it out onto the laundry room floor. The sound of wood against tile almost sounded like the shattering of paradise as the girl wanders from the room, footsteps in sync with the painful throbbing now jumping back to life in her abdomen.Now, when the machine turns on, now filled with wet jeans, it seems to call to her. Next time…next time.

Ghostly Memories

Bethany Totten

The room seemed frozen in time.  The bed was neatly made; the various trinkets were still on the dresser.  Even the house coat elegantly draped over the chair was untouched by time.

Although the room was empty, a young woman glided in, looking around the room in sadness.  It seemed like only yesterday that the blonde haired female was in the room preparing to meet her secret lover. They had planned to run away and elope but, well, things hadn’t quite worked out.

She couldn’t recall very much from that night.  She had been applying her makeup when she suddenly had a nasty coughing spell.  The maid had heard her and the last thing the young women remembered was fainting.  She heard voices but could never see who was talking.  It was an experience unlike any she had ever had before. She had then awoken in her room, alone and unaware of the time or day.  She had been walking around the house for what seemed like days, but no one seemed to be home.  It was very odd. A dress hung from the hanger on the door like a ghost, the fabric swaying in the gentle breeze from the open window.  The young maiden walked over and ran her fingers over the fabric.  It was as soft as she remembered.

She suddenly heard the familiar sound of her father’s Sun Touring pulling up to the front of the house.  She eagerly ran down the stairs to the front to greet her family, descending the marble stairs to the foyer.  Her family entered.

“Mother!” the young lady exclaimed.  “Father!  Where on earth did you go?  I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

Her parents silently walked past her.  The young woman was confused.

“The house seems so quiet with her gone,” her mother mused to seemingly no one.

The elderly woman’s husband hugged her.  “I know, my dear,” he replied.  “At least she didn’t suffer.”

“But Father, I’m right here!” the lady replied.  She reached out to touch her mother’s arm.  The matron shuddered.

“Oh, Walt, it still feels like my beloved Margot’s still here!” she wailed.  “Why did that damn tuberculosis have to take her?  Why?”

Margot’s mother broke down as she stared at her parents in confusion.  Tuberculosis?  What was she talking about?  She didn’t have that.  And she most certainly wasn’t dead.

She followed her parents to their room, calling after them, begging them to answer her.

In anger, she grabbed a wooden hanger from the back of the door and threw it against the wall.  “I’m right here!” she exclaimed,

Her parents screamed as the hanger splintered against the wall.

“Dear God!  It’s a poltergeist!” her mother exclaimed and fainted.

Margot stood in shock.  It was true.  They really couldn’t see her.  She sank to her knees, her worst fears realized.  She was a ghost.  And she was trapped here, never to see her true love again.

A Fish Out of Water

Richard Russell

We pulled up to the laundromat and sat in the car for a few moments while my wife, Melissa, went over the instructions again.  “… And don’t put anything red in the wash with anything white.  Keep colors separate.”

Nodding, I smiled, took the three page instructions, unloaded six baskets of laundry onto the sidewalk, and kissed Melissa goodbye.

She smiled, “I’ll be back as soon as the dentist is through, Love!”

“Bye, Sweetie.  Have a nice … dental … visit.”

Melissa drove away; I picked up a basket and went inside.

The place was deserted.  Feeling like a fish out of water — an interloper in someone else’s world  — I   picked a washer and dryer set near the coffee machine, I intended to fully avail myself of that amenity before doing anything else.

After getting a load of whites into the washer and setting the first wash cycle in motion, I sipped my coffee and remembered that five more baskets of laundry sat out on the sidewalk.  With some sense of urgency, I headed for the door.  About to go out, I noticed a pair of female legs hanging out of a dryer.

Being the good Samaritan, I approached gingerly to see if I could help in any way. “Um, are you all right?” I queried.

“Do I look all right?” she snapped, and went back to moaning.

“Is there anything I can do?”  I asked sheepishly.

Desperately, the woman asserted, “Yes! Yes! Press your hand into the small of my back and push hard!”

Overcoming my conservative upbringing, I attempted to comply, but it proved difficult to apply enough pressure to her specifications with her in the dryer and me outside.  I moved halfway inside the dryer, and before I knew it, I was lying in the dryer with her, pressing my palm into the small of her back with considerable pressure.

She moaned in satisfaction and relief as she explained normally she would apply a heating pad to relieve her menstrual cramps, but the best she could come up with here was climbing into the hot dryer.

Just then, Melissa’s face showed up outside the dryer. “Howard!?”

I jumped.”

“Melissa!?  I’m … uh … this is … uh …”

“Jenny.”

“Jenny! She’s … uh … and …”

Melissa frowned.  “Howard … would you bring in the rest of the laundry, please … now.”

With great difficulty, I slithered obediently out of the dryer.

Shaking her head, Melissa just starred at me in disbelief as I wandered off.”

Then she turned her attention to the woman in the dryer.  Handing her some extra-strength ibuprofen, the two were soon commiserating about mysterious women’s things … and men … in general.

“…And I told him, ‘Throw that dang hairbrush away; it hasn’t any bristles left anyway!’”

and  “ …I’ve told him at least a dozen times, ‘Don’t hang that coat on a wire hanger. Use the wooden one!’”

“Men!”

“Yeah, from a whole different planet.”

“Yeah.”

I sipped my warm coffee and kept quiet over by the washer.

Time Won’t Always Heal

Amy Kasim

“Ooh Esi you need to see this! It would blow you up!” Macbeth rushed into his sister’s room with the Native Heirloom, their town’s local newspaper, in his hand.

“What is it this time?” Esi snapped at her sister, rushing past him to her wardrobe whiles smoothening her hair with a hairbrush without bristles. “I hope it is not one of those funny stories you bring to me every morning to read about menstrual cramps or women in clothe dryers? I am not in the mood for any of that today.”

Macbeth rolled her eyes at his sister.  “What has gotten into your pants this morning to make you all grumpy?”

“I am not grumpy. It is just that I can’t seem to find my yellow dress.”

“The flowery one?” Macbeth asked, looking around the room

“Yes; that very one! I need it for my presentation this morning and I am already running late!”

“Esi Appiah, do you ever take your time to look for things? The dress is hanging right behind you”

“Where?” Esi turned quickly to look in her brother’s direction. Macbeth held the dress in one hand and a wooden hanger in the other with a smug look on his face.

Esi ignored his looks and snatched the dress. “So, what were you saying about the Heirloom? She asked, whiles checking out herself in the mirror.

“Oh that; it is just an article by your enemy journalist, Kofi Quayson about…”

“Let me see it!” Esi snatched the newspaper and sat to read; her eyebrows creasing as she read line after line, muttering to herself. Macbeth stood still, watching his sister in awe. With the way Esi disliked the guy, it was obvious they had a bone to pick.

“Bloody hell!” she yelled.

“No curse words allowed in this house” Macbeth chided his sister

“Who cares about curse words when that chauvinist with absolutely no brains is here spewing rubbish? A woman leaves her abusive marriage because she cannot take it anymore and he says it’s her fault? She was being abused because she refused to be submissive? Unbelievable! Ooh so is it because no one has exposed his evil deeds that he has the guts to say this kind of nonsense?”

“Chauvinist with no brains? Why are you like this Esi? Unless there is more to this outburst than you are letting on, which is obvious, I think this is just an article.”

“Just an article you say? Why are people always quick to come to the aid of the abuser and never the abused? Why have we allowed our culture render us ignorant? I will be damned to let this issue die.”

Esi snatched her car keys from the table

“Don’t you have a presentation to get to? Where are you going Esi?” Macbeth asked, stunned at his sister’s behaviour.

“To do something I should have done a long time ago.”

Plight of the Homeless

Vance Rowe

A reporter was doing an exposé on the homeless people. While interviewing some of the indigent camped under a highway overpass, he noticed an older woman sitting in a clothes dryer. He made a beeline over to her and asked, “What are you doing in there, ma’am?”

“Mind your own beeswax,” she replied angrily.

“Can I talk with you for a few minutes please?”

“Go away, Copper. I ain’t see’d nothin’.’”

“Copper? I am a reporter writing an article about homeless people.”

“So, what’s that got to do with me? I ain’t homeless, Copper.”

“You aren’t? Then where do you live?”

“Right here, Dummy.”

“Oh, this one is priceless,” he thought to himself.

He turned on his little recorder and held it close to the dryer door.

She noticed it and suddenly got frightened and asked, “What is that?”

“It is a recording device so I can write about our conversation in the newspaper.”

“Since when do coppers write newspaper stories?”

Ma’am, I am not a policeman. Will you please come out of there so I can talk with you? I will pay you ten dollars for your time.”

“All right Copper but you will have to wait until they go away.”

“They? They who?”

“My menstrual cramps?”

“Excuse me?” the surprised reporter asked.

“Why? Did you just fart or something?”

“No, Ma’am. What about menstrual cramps?”

“The dryer is the only thing that helps them.”

“Right. Silly me,” the reporter said, slowly shaking his head. He figured the woman to be well into her sixties and she shouldn’t be having menstrual cramps.

A couple of minutes later she climbed out of the dryer and sat down on the ground. Her salt and pepper colored hair was dirty and matted. She had two different color wool socks on her feet. A torn dress covered by a threadbare housecoat. Her B.O. tested his gag reflexes.

“Can we talk for a couple of minutes?”

“We been talking, Copper,” she replied.

“Right. Sorry.”

He handed the woman a ten dollar bill. She licked it and stuck it on her forehead.

“Hand me my mirror there, will ya?” she asked as she pointed to a wooden hangar on the ground. She held it up by the hook and peered through it as if it really is a mirror. She then picked up a hair brush that had no bristles and combed her hair with it.

“Why are you doing that?”

“I’m gettin’ all gussied up for my picture. Ain’t you holding a camera?”

“No, ma’am. It’s a record…oh never mind.”

Suddenly she covered her abdomen and said, “Oh no.”

Then she got up and climbed back into the dryer.

“Menstrual cramps?”

“Of course. Why else would I be in a dryer, Copper?”

“That’s the only reason I can think of. I will see you later,” he said, as he stood up shaking his head.

As he walked around, the reporter spotted a man climbing into a refrigerator. Someone yelled and asked where he was going this time. The man in the refrigerator yelled, “General Washington needs me. I’ll be back.”

The reporter made a beeline over to him.

The Laundromat

Steven L. Bergeron

“Car 22. A  469 has been reported at 228 Jarvis street. Acknowledge you ETA?”

“Our ETA is ten minutes over and out.” I glanced over to my partner, who was scanning through the code book.

“No need for that son, you are about to get your first dose of what goes on around here when the sun goes down.”

Passing through the downtown area, at this time of the night, can be scary. Rule number one, not making any eye contact with the ladies of the night.

WE arrived at our destination with ten minutes to spare. My new partner simply looked at me with a dumb fond look on his face.

“ I can believe it, we are simply going to walk in here, and do nothing about what we just seen?”

“My dear partner, it is what we call survival . Sure what they are doing is illegal, but until we can get solid evidence our hands are pretty well tied.”

Entering my thirty second scan of Pete’s Laundromat proved to be unproductive. No evidence of any foul play to be spotted. A few machines were running, along with a few wooden hangers set up drying what appeared to be a few dresses. One surely not worn, by our ladies of the night. Once we paraded around to the second row of dryers our call had some merit.  A pair of unwaxed  legs, hanging out of the far dryer.

There she was Andrea Spagnoli our assistant DA in  a predicament she never planned for. As far as it goes she looked better than any lingerie model on the red carpet.

“Isn’t it a shame, a body so young as who could have done quite a thing? To think she never got the enjoyment to help her daughter thru her menstrual cramps, on her road to womanhood.”

“That is a very good question. For instinct see these bruises all over her left thigh, the question to ask for here would be what could have cause theses egg shaped form.”

“Hum they look like the same kind of bruises I endured in my younger days. Living with three sisters you are bound to get a few brush slaps every now and then.”

“True ,but there would also see marks inside the bruises, from the bristles now would there be?”

“Well unless it was done with the unbristled backside. I seen a purse on my way in, should I go check it for a brush?”

“There you go my partner good synopsis of the situation.”

“Sorry  inspector no brushes here, which is odd. Growing up with females you get to learn no woman leaves there home without one.”

A search of the outside area proved successful. One block down, in a alley dumpster a wooden hand brush we did find. To our surprise the backside had evidence of blood soaked trauma.

The Heroine

Keith Badowski

I could see you inside my womb since conception, but only this morning I’m sure. You were either Bruce or Diana, and I had hoped against hope for Bruce. Not for any traditional reasons, little Diana, but because the women in our family are physically stronger than any man who has ever walked the earth, and that isn’t easy. We’re invulnerable too, which causes all sorts of inconveniences. Our “hair of steel” racks up bristleless brushes galore. Thankfully atomic power holds promise for shaving legs.

Other abilities, like my own x-ray vision, may be inherited. I can see through clothes, skin, walls, automobiles, and even buildings. What I wish I could see, but can’t, is the future. If I did, I might have prevented you, but I shouldn’t imagine my remorseful past as your future, even though that’s all I have to go on, and all I have to tell.

 For years I’ve worked with Henry, investigative reporter for the Daily Bullhorn and “genius” at stumbling into peril. It’s been my mission to be there in the guise of his pretty cub photographer. The trick is how to rescue him without divulging my secret. I’ve tripped power breakers, blinded Henry with cigarette ashes, and made humiliating, bladder-related excuses to disappear just as situations reached a crisis.

The difference that fateful day was we weren’t a duo. Henry brought along his fiancée Janie. He’d gotten a tip that a ring was meeting late one night, posing as bachelors doing wash, to divvy up their recent booty. Henry proposed a charade of our own—a laundromat photoshoot with Janie as the model.

Henry boosted Janie inside the top porthole of a stacked dryer unit, and from there she dangled her attractive legs for my camera. While I snapped shots Henry would likely treasure for years, I scanned for our suspects. Two known crooks were headed our way—Johnny “Iron Knuckles” Wilson on foot with a holstered gun under his coat and Lex “The Brains” Thorndike in a chauffeured hearse, his well-manicured hand gripping a laundry sack stuffed with diamonds.

Henry, flustered by my excuse of menstrual cramps, took possession of my camera. I dashed behind the laundromat and changed into my suit, complete with rubber skullcap and oversized goggles. Once the diamonds came inside, I sabotaged the power and broke in the back door.

In his ineptly valiant way, Henry picked up a wooden coat hanger to defend Janie. He never got the chance to use it. Wilson sensed my silhouette enter the laundromat and started firing. The first bullet splintered Henry’s coat hanger. The second bullet ricocheted off me and into Janie, ripping through her womb and her lower spine.

The rest happened in slow motion. I shoved Henry to floor, crushed Wilson’s hand around his gun, and then with one strong tug toppled a bank of dryers onto Thorndike, the diamonds, and two accomplices. I called for an ambulance, but Janie bled out before they arrived.

In the following months, Henry turned to his photographer pal for a shoulder to cry on. And you, Diana, are the result of one of those nights of comforting.

Elementary

Tina Biscuit

‘First impressions of the crime scene, Watson.’

‘Coin-operated laundrette, Holmes: six industrial dryers, one with a shoe protruding from the drum; twelve washing machines, two dented; linoleum flooring, worn at centre; six tubular steel chairs, with plastic seats; one toughened-glass door, slightly ajar.’

‘ADT, Watson – attention to detail.’

Watson grimaced.

‘OK, Holmes: one hairbrush, worn; one coat hanger, wooden; one sock, discarded; one newspaper, crumpled; one shoe, black.’

‘A black, leather shoe, Watson; a hairbrush, without bristles, Watson’, he picked up the hanger, and sniffed, ‘beech’. Holmes withdrew a dark fibre, flicked his lighter, and burnt it.

‘Synthetic fibre, Watson.’

He used the hanger to lift the sock, and raised the lighter to repeat the test. It smoked, but did not light. Watson covered his nose. The pungent fumes filled the air. Holmes placed the smouldering items on a seat, and turned to inspect the newspaper.

‘It’s yesterday’s’, he announced.

‘If it was tomorrow’s, I could guess the headline’, said Watson.

‘Go on’, said Holmes.

‘Famous detective burns down laundrette.’

‘Very droll, Watson.’

A curl of smoke rose to the ceiling, and the smoke detector triggered the alarm. Watson fanned the newspaper. Holmes went to open the door, just as a policewoman was entering.

‘Ah, Mr. Holmes’, she brushed past him, ‘and you must be the famous Dr. Watson.’ She removed a glove, and shook hands with Watson. Holmes looked on, and raised a finger to his temple.

‘Jill Fletcher’, said Holmes, ‘we worked on the Temple Road case, together.’

She opened a panel in the wall, and flicked a switch: the alarm stopped.

‘It’s DC Fletcher, now, Holmes, and I think you mean you walked on that case, trampling evidence as you went. Please tell me you haven’t contaminated our murder scene this time.’

‘Murder seems hyperbolic at this stage, Jill, sorry, DC Fletcher. We don’t have a body, yet.’

‘So what gems of deduction can you share, before you leave us, Holmes?’

Holmes picked up the brush, and took a deep breath.

‘Your victim is a bald man, late thirties, black synthetic coat, missing a sock, a fetish for stiletto heels, a penchant for old newspapers, and was probably blackmailing his nemesis.’

She raised an eyebrow, and almost smiled, before her mouth contorted in pain: her hands clenched at her stomach, and she bent forward as if about to fall. Watson caught her, and guided her on to one of the plastic seats, where she remained hunched over.

Watson turned to Holmes.

‘Appendicitis’, he whispered.

‘It’s poisoning, Watson. It occurred just after she removed her glove. The alarm control box must have been coated with a fast-acting poison.’

DC Jill Fletcher stood up, stifling a groan, ‘It’s what women call menstrual cramps: half the world’s population suffers them, and the other half doesn’t seem to notice.’ She raised an arm, and pointed across the room.

‘Talking of noticing…’

‘Ah, I forgot to mention the shoe, said Holmes, ‘ADT’.

‘You also neglected to mention the woman’s body, curled up in the clothes dryer, but I’m sure you were getting around to that detail, Mr. Holmes.’

‘A. T. D. Sherlock, ATD.’

Clothes Dryer One, Hanger Zero

Danielle Lee Zwissler

Jack looked at the facts and tried to piece together a reason for a killer to throw the woman in the clothes dryer, but he couldn’t find one logical answer.

“The woman was only 34,” Jack muttered, shaking his head.

“Yeah, but 34 and hot,” the other detective, Lassiter, said, looking at the same stack of evidence. “Look at picture 2. All that hair…and picture 7, did you see it?”

“Yeah, I saw it,” Jack said and sighed.

“Her hair was a tangled mess. Looks as if the brush on the table was taken out by the hair. Not one bristle.”

There was a wooden hanger, too. Nothing about this case made a lick of sense. “Do you suppose it was an accident?”

Lassiter laughed. “Yeah, sure… What, did the woman just climb into the dryer to fetch a sock or something, and somehow will the thing to turn on on its own?”

Jack rolled his eyes. “As strange as this all seems, she could have been just a little off and climbed in to see if she could fit. Some dryers turn on after the door is shut.”

Lassiter shook his head. “Some, but how the hell did she close the door on her own? It’s not like they have a handle from the inside.”

“What does the autopsy report say? Have we gotten it back yet?” Jack questioned.

“Should have it this afternoon. Marjorie said she’d get it to us before lunch.”

Jack leaned back in his chair. “Did you check up on that guy that she was seeing?”

“Yeah, he’s clear. He was at work all night. And, she called him that evening, too.”

“Could have been him using her phone,” Jack said, and Lassiter picked up a sheet of paper.

“Nope, one of the boyfriend’s friends at work witnessed the phone call.”

Jack huffed. “All we’ve done is move in circles.”

The phone rang just then, and it was Marjorie.

“What did you find out?” Lassiter asked.

“Nothing much. Death by heat, oh and she was on her period.”

“Her period?”

“You know that thing that happens once a month; it’s a bitch,” Marjorie joked.

“Yeah, I know what it is, I just don’t know why that’s important.”

“I’m not the detective, you are,” Marjorie commented. “See you tonight?”

Lassiter laughed. “Yep.”

Lassiter looked at Jack. “So, the dryer was the cause. There’s no other information, other than the lady must have been having some pretty bad menstrual cramps.”

“Menstrual cramps?”

“Marjorie thinks it may be important,” Lassiter commented.

“You and Marjorie going out yet?”

Lassiter smiled. “Yep.”

“So, you think she’s on to something with the cramps?”

“How the hell should I know?”

“Think like the murderer on this one, Lassiter. Would you throw a woman in a clothes dryer?”

“Well, I sure as hell wooden’ hanger,” Lassiter said with a wink and a grin.

“What?!”

“Get it, wooden’ hanger?”

Jack shook his head. “I think we both need to get some sleep and come back to this case fresh in the morning.”

“I couldn’t agree with you more,” Lassiter said and grabbed his coat.

A Tale of Two Laundries

E. Chris Garrison

The life of a mad scientist is often glamorized. But believe me, it’s not all bringing patchwork corpses to life, or building the ultimate death ray. Especially for those of us on a budget, there are simply days when you’ve got to do mundane things. Like my laundry. Which is how I found myself alone at the Laundromat one Saturday night.

Mad science pays a lot less than you’d think it would.

There are laundries closer to my apartment, but I like Ike’s Laundry and Tan’s 1950s atmosphere. Wooden clothes hangers, copper embossed ceiling tiles, and all chrome décor. Cell reception was terrible, since it formed a Faraday cage of sorts, but that suited me fine.

That is, until she happened.

As I watched my laundry tumble in the massive quarter-driven dryer, I had a thought: what better way to clean clothes than to swap them with their as-yet-unused counterparts in alternate dimensions? It’d work through entanglement, and could remove any stain by way of literally never having happened. Of course, some alternate me would have unexplained stains appearing on his clothes. But that’s not my problem. Heck, the same principal could restore the bristles on an old favorite hairbrush, or instantly fix a flat tire…

A flash of light and a booming noise startled me from my daydreaming. It came from my dryer. A jump-suited woman peered out of the machine at me, grinning. She slapped at the glass door with the palm of her hand, and I helped her out.

She stood a little shorter than me, with auburn hair like mine, only longer. Her eyes could have been mine, except for the merry twinkle in them.

“I did it!” she cried, hugging me. Toasty warm, she smelled of my dryer sheets.

“So, you admit it!” I said, shoving her away from me.

A frown clouded her freckled face. “And why shouldn’t I?”

“It’s criminal,” I said. “And dangerous. You are me, aren’t you?”

She nodded. Her smile restored, “Looks like I’m a man in this universe?”

I shrugged. “What’s that got to do with it? You’re just like the others. All evil. Like that me from Atlantis, who stole my marine biologist girlfriend! Or the other me who fried my equipment with an EMP burst to stop my death ray experiments. Or—”

She grinned. “See? It’s meant to be, we’re dimension hoppers! All of us discover quantum tunneling!”

“And you stole my idea. And my laundry! It’s criminal!”

Time for my secret weapon.

In a fury, I pulled out an electronic patch made of pink flexible metal, its surface etched with a crossed-out Venus symbol. I slapped it onto her bare forearm. “Ha! I stole that from the last me – feel the Femmeliminator! Ah ha ha!”

She closed her eyes and her face went slack, followed by a blissful smile. “Dude, we’re about to become filthy stinking rich! That doodad just cured my cramps!”

Sales of Femmeliminators have funded our joint mad science ventures quite nicely.

The Magpies’ Song

Mamie Pound

The clouds drifted farther and farther away, until only a half-moon and bits of stars shone against the blue-velvet sky.

The entire world slept, except the noisy magpies, huddled and waiting in the trees along the water. Their garbled sing-song quickened her heartbeat.

The wooden sash creaked a little as she pushed up the window, then tiptoed along the roof, to the River Birch at the corner of the house.

She threw down her flip flops first and descended, limb by limb, until the soft, wet zoysia met her bare feet. A perfume of roses’ blooms was caught in the wind.

The dirt trail to the river twisted through waist-high reeds in an empty lot and crossed a two-lane highway before she was close enough to hear the lapping water.

He waited on makeshift raft, timber held together with nylon rope, floating on empty plastic barrels.

He smiled.

She took a deep breath.

“Ready?” he said.

“Yeah,” she said and he helped her step onto the rocking floor.

“I have to be back before daybreak,” she said, balancing each step before sinking down, indian-style.

“I know.”

They caught the swift current and at once, were out in the middle, sailing under the stars.

“I always thought it’d be fun, to raft all the way to Apalachicola,” she said. “Catch a freighter to Mexico.”

He dug the post down into the water and guided them along. “Or even South America.”

“Yeah,” she agreed.

She lay on her back on the raft, face up to the stars.

“You know any of the constellations?’ she asked. Warm June air rustled the leaves overhanging the bank, were a counterpoint to the Magpie wings, fluttering overhead.

“Yeah,” he said.

“Which one?”

“Let’s see,” he began, and she knew it was going to turn to a long, winding story that would probably last until morning.

“There once was a couple, Vega and Altair,” he began.

She laughed, dipped her hand into the river and sprayed him with water.

“Alright, then. I bet you’ve never heard of the Coat Hanger Constellation?”

“Of course I have,” she said, stretching out until both her hands trailed behind her in the wake of the raft. “But tell me again.”

“It’s not as bright as it will be in July, but imagine a line from “Altair” toward the even brighter star, “Vega”. Coathanger is in the darkest part of the sky, about a third of the way between them…” he watched as her eyes searched the sky, then met his own.

“You can’t see it without a telescope, can you?” she smiled.

“Of course you can,” he said. “But not with your eyes.” He lay down beside her, and looked up at the stars.

“That one is Cassiopeia and there’s Orion,” he said.

The moon rose higher still. The dominoed birds swooped alongside their vessel, skittering owls from the trees. And they floated along, all the way down the Chattahoochee, until finally, the craft beached itself on a sand bar just north of Eufaula.

The waves were perfect and dark, one after the other.

And the Magpies cloaked them in song.

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.

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