The Iron Writer Challenge #189 2017 Spring Equinox Challenge #10

The Iron Writer Challenge #189

2017 Spring Equinox Challenge #10 

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Authors:

Steven L. Bergeron, Matt Henderson

The Elements:

A Pilot getting high

A broken alarm clock

As many of the gates of hell from this list as you can get in



GI Joe or Hell

Steven L Bergeron

“Commander Burgess ,what is your flight situation?”

“At the current Sergeant Joe I’m pulling right behind you ready for our next mission.”

“President Trump wants us to fly over Mexico, should there be any retaliation over the erection of the wall?”

A bucket of ice water woke me up from my virtual dream. It was Sunday morning again, I had pulled the batteries out of my alarm clock for all the wrong reasons. Now that I was fully awake I had no good excuse to miss morning services.  Here we were dressed in our Sundays best for what is the longest hour of the week. I crammed USAF pilot GI Joe comic inside my coat pocket. If Pa ever found out, I would definitely endure a soar ass for a week.

As we approached the doors of heavenly knowledge the outside bulletin board said it all.

“The gates of hell, shall not prevail.” Gi Joe would serve its purpose today, although this was a sermon I should have paid closer attention to.

 I joined my brother in the basement back pew just in time for Sister Terry to begin her weekly lecture.  Sitting way in the back gave me all the opportunity to sneak Gi Joe on my lap, hidden by my bible without anyone being the wiser. She began her lecture illustrating to us how Jesus descention into hell before being risen has cleared the path for his followers. His ascention supposedly sealed the gates into hell closed, leaving out all his believers. As long as we all followers the ten commandments the gates will remain closed.

There was complete silence, then a voice made me finally look up. I guess I spent a little too much time in Gi Joes world.

“Mr Burgess are you with us?”

“Yes Sister.”

“Well then tell us the name of the keeper of the Gates of Hell?”

“Oh that would be Lucifer” I replied as my attention went back to Gi Joe. 

“Wrong Mr Burgess. He’s name is Hades it is clear you were not paying attention. What could be more important?” Without knowing it she was standing right beside me, and snapped Gi Joe right from my lap. How did she know. Then I spotted the picture of the last supper behind me which undoubtedly acted like a mirror. 

It was one lesson I valuably learnt. For that day forward Gi Joe comics were banned from our house. The only reading material that was allowed was the bible or any Christian comics like: Prayer pups or Raw deal. It took a week for my butt to get back to normal, were I can seat with no pain.

From that day forward my constant reading of the bible, opened up a new vision in my eyes and how the world should be. I had grown to admire pastor Matt and sister Terrys messages. I would begin in helping then out with any means possible from being an alter boy to one day taking over for Pastor Matt when my age permitted.   

A Dark Knight On A Pale Horse

Matt Henderson
The mouth of Mongibello, was spitting fire and ash, and Luis could hear the torturous screams of unrepentant sinners echoing up the throat of Mount Etna, and down through the corridors of time. He could feel the hot waves against his face; his stomach lurched and acid rose against his throat as he gagged on the smell of sulfur and burning flesh. He was dizzy and blinded with sweat. His clothes clung to him like leaches. His face felt completely drained and he dripped with the perspiration of heat and fear. It was darker than any night he had ever known and the only light he had was the luminous fiery pit that glowed with a bright orange anger and faded out in a haze. There was nothing he could do for his comrades, so he turned his stallion into the darkness and rode away, giving all control over to his warhorse. He trusted his horse to find them a passage out of there, and down the mountainside. He had no choice. He lay against the horse’s mane and felt the proud beast’s muscles ripple against his face with its own strength and fear. He felt himself slipping into darkness and falling…
“Luis,” said Dr. Elias, “When I snap my fingers you will wake up and return to the present day. Three, two, one,” the doctor snapped his fingers.
Luis breathed in a huge clutch of air and shook his head, sending sweat in a halo onto the psychiatrist. “What the hell?” Luis coughed. His eyes landed on the broken alarm clock that had been in the office since he’d first come a few years ago.
“Regression Therapy, Luis. Remember? You have been under hypnosis for 20 minutes. That is the maximum time I will allow. In fact you are the only one I go over 15 minutes with. Now tell me, what did you see?”
“Doctor, I never see a damn thing.”
“From your appearance and actions, I would beg to differ,” the doctor said calmly. “Take a minute. Relax. We have plenty of time, Mr. Cypress.” The doctor was used to Luis not wanting to talk about his hypnosis sessions. It just takes awhile for him to unwind.
“What did they call the amphetamines they gave you when you were flying in ‘Nam?”

“We always called them ‘stop and go’s,” said Luis. “We had the best drugs in the Air Force. When we were dropping illegal troops in Laos we took off with a handful of tabs of Darvon, Codeine and Dexedrine. Sleep and go…That’s just the way it was. We’d drop them in Laos and Cambodia and then run a bomb raid on the North before we’d get back in the rack. War and hell, Doc.”
“Do you think you are getting anything from the hypnosis sessions, Luis?”
“Ah, the rivers Cocytus, Lethe, Phlegethon and Styx” thought Luis Cypress. “That’s one hell of a travel plan,” as he caught his own curled snarl of a smile in a mirror propped up on  Jung’s Red Book on the doctor’s desk.
Hell yes, Doc. I feel better every time I go under.”

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.”


“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 #177, 2016 Autumn Equinox Challenge Championship Preliminary Round, Linda Fairstein Bracket


The Iron Writer Challenge #177

2016 Autumn Equinox Challenge Championship

Preliminary Round

Linda Fairstein Bracket

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

 The Elements:

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


Linda Fairstein Bracket

D. Lee Cox, Amy Kasim, Matt Henderson, SzeTeng Ong

Introduction to Wim Meeks

– A Scene from Marie ClemLee Cox

D. Lee Cox

Walking in the southern heat and humidity in late August was like moving through warm broth. The 9:05 Central line arrived at Junction Hall on Sims and 3rd avenue early in the morning.

Into the bright sunny hot morning walked William “Wim” Meeks.

The street corner lacked any color but brown. Brown brick, brown dirt roads, brown water, gas street lamps browned with dust, brown people with brown hats. The smell of manure and body odor and mildew wafted up from under the splintered and rotten boards.

Outside the diner two dusty men sat on a bench smoking cigarettes, an empty pop bottle lay in front of them. Heads tilted down, fedoras over their eyes, laughing in gruff throaty grunts. Upon the edge of the boardwalk a young boy of eight or ten sat playing a banjo to his dog.

Meeks stopped short of the pop bottle, dead in his way.

“Excuse me.”

Neither dusty man moved. 

Long pause.

Meeks picked up the pop bottle and put it next to the boot of one of the men.

Continuing on his way he patted the shoulder of another as he passed.

Six strides down Meeks felt the tap on his shoulder and stopped quietly. 

“Excuse us,” growled a voice behind him.

Meeks turned slowly to view the two shady characters, standing one behind the other.

Their skin was leather, eyes sunken and red. One slightly taller than the other, but favoring in a familial way. Dirt encrusted nails as one reached for his cigarillo.

“What can I do for you?” asked Meeks.

“Just what do you think you’re doin, mister?”

The boy stopped playing his banjo, the dog dipped under the boards.

Meeks took a step toward them.

“I said ‘excuse me’ and you didnt move. I assumed you were asleep. I moved your pop bottle so as to not disturb you,” Meeks leaned into the shade of the other mans filthy hat, “is there a problem with that?”

Meeks had a dead stare in his eyes that might startle the average church-goer. But these men had given up their spirituality a long, long time ago. They were not intimidated.

The first man slowly leaned forward, “You dont touch a man you dont know, mister.”

Meeks looked up at the first man, said, “Didnt mean to offend… friend.”.

He hooked his thumbs into his leather jacket and stared at the first man.

Across the way a butcher was standing in the doorway of his shop. White apron mottled in blood red, yellow fat. Smoking a cigarette, watching a cat drink something out of a saucer.

Two strong wills do not experience “fight or flight” – they experience something more akin to a bookie doing the math. The effort just doesn’t seem worth it.

The second man said, “Tom, I’m gonna go get another pop.”

The first man spit on the ground and snorted, like an angry bull deciding today wasnt the day to gore the bullfighter.

Meeks said, “Good day,” touched the brim of his hat and turned to continue on his way.

Always Had It In Meamy-kasim

Amy Kasim

What happens when a person is ill-treated? Who is to blame; the one who committed the offence or the one who caused the offender to commit the offence? More often than not, people who do wrong are not to blame for what they do. The offences they commit are mostly triggered by past experiences such as broken home, a horrendous incident like continuous bullying in their teenage years or sometimes, it is just the way they are.

In my case, I could be referred to as the guy who played it safe. I was not a bully, the bullies were my allies. It was I who designed the pranks they would use on the innocent ones. Well, don’t hate on me! A brother needs to do what he can to survive boarding school! I had the brains; they had the strength and the fame. I needed them just as much as they needed me. I didn’t have friends, the only one I had was Thomas.

Thomas, my faithful friend, was a stray dog I found lying wounded in the bush behind the school. I slowly nursed him back to health and with the permission of my house master; I got to keep him as a pet. That dog just had an ear to listen to everything; so when I would sit with him on the bleachers at the school field playing the dis-tuned banjo my grandpa left me, Thomas would perk up his ears, wagging his tail with his tongue hanging out as if he understood every single out-of-tune note I played.

My grandpa always said, ‘people do not change; character is just imbedded in them’ never made sense to me till a few years after I had started working at a tech firm. I was a bully all along; the situation needed to bring up itself.

There was this new intern at the firm where I worked. His name was Louis; very shy and timid. He skinny with a crooked nose, always avoided eye contact and would stammer when trying to answer questions. He reminded me so much of myself in high school that it infuriated me. I needed to get rid of him.

I tried talking to my supervisor to change his department but he would not budge so I knew I had to do something. I would usually put him in embarrassing situations like sticking gum on his seat and sticking pads on his shirt which read ‘slap me!’ or ‘I am dumb’. I would taunt him endlessly and make up silly jokes about him, debunking his contributions during meetings and throwing his work in his face. I never saw the need to stop even when he begged me but I guess there is a limit to everything.

One day, out of frustration, Louis almost jumped off our 7 storey because he could not bear the torture anymore. I finally realized who I had become; a bully, someone who always put lives in danger.

Appalachia, Keep Me Dancing

Matt Henderson                                        

“I’m here with ‘Sonny Boy’ Latham,” I started in, coming back from a commercial break. “We were talking about bluegrass and how you started playing the banjo as a young boy.”

“Yeah. I reckon I’s four when I really started playin’,” Sonny Boy half laughed, half sang—He was big on emotion, short on words, and I wasn’t very interested in the subject anyway, and hardly in the mood for pulling teeth.

This was regional cable television in the mid-seventies and I wasn’t excited about most of the assignments I was sent on. I was young and had my eyes on real news; major broadcasting. The trips in a white station wagon, and a minimal expense account were depressing as hell. I felt like I was a million miles from civilization; maybe I was. It seemed like once you hit a certain mile marker on those back roads, the miles started passing exponentially.

“Sonny, do a lot of children still start at such an early age around here?” I asked.

“It’s ‘Sonny Boy’…Told ya that…it was in the papers,” Mr. Latham said rather curtly. No song in his voice; no laughter. “Some do, some don’t. Always been like that. Always will.”

“I asked about that, ‘Sonny Boy’ because we were hoping to get children interested in joining band in their local communities and schools. It was in the papers that we sent. Do you have any words for the children who might want to start playing music?” I nearly yawned.

“If they want to play music, play…Ya can’t make ‘em.” He snorted. “Besides, ain’t no community bands ‘round here, and ain’t no band in the school, neither. Not for miles. They is only family bands. We like it that way.”

“Strange thing, but I get to say this…we do love to say this: A funny thing happened on my way in this morning. I saw this little boy…Looked about four. He was sitting on this wall playing this ancient banjo…the kind with animal skin stretched over the base. He was playing it well, but what struck me was he was playing for this big black dog. The dog was dancing…and he looked like he was smiling. Have you ever seen that boy with his dog?”

“Ain’t no such thing. Cut that camera off. I ain’t got nothin’ else,” the veins stood out as Sonny Boy spoke. Then he walked out of the makeshift studio and jumped in the passenger side of a pick-up that sped off.

The man he called his manager walked up. “You saw the boy?” he asked.

I nodded.

“Look. Don’t take this wrong. You’ve been depressed. A number of us have. This is Appalachia. It’s a country within a country. Runs through a large part of your country. But it’s real. Solid. Spiritually intelligent and coherently humane. Cherokee, Irish, Scottish. Not the hicks you people like to intellectually bully. Everybody sees the dog. Mister, Sonny Boy’s brother killed himself from melancholia a long while back. People say the boy is him, keeping the black dog away. Dog’s name is ‘Bami Jo.’ Nigerian word for ‘Keep me Dancing.’ The banjo’s original name.”


Ong Sze Teng

The hare was messily torn down the middle, no longer able to stand the strain from both ends. Ozo dropped the end he was holding, but at least he had the decency to look ashamed. Naga was frowning as he tossed the half of his prey to the hound beside him, as if someone had merely made a small slip instead of ruining the pack’s meal. “Well, now you’ve done it.”

“I didn’t mean to pull so hard,” Ozo mumbled.

“Which is surprising, seeing how scrawny you are,” came the scoff. Ozo glanced up immediately, growling at the sneer directed at him.

He hissed back, “Maybe Berry won’t think so.”

“Maybe she will. What happened?”

The whole hunting party stood at attention, flanks still for a moment before turning to gaze calmly at the sleek, lean female gliding into the clearing.

“Our new member seems to think he’s in charge,” Naga reported coldly, head jerking at the hare at Ozo’s feet. A quick inspection, confirmed that the hare had been torn apart, not bitten through neatly, of course. “The hare was in one piece when I caught it.”

Ever one to make wise decisions, Ozo jumped to defend himself. “Naga wanted to claim it, so he snatched it from me! I just pulled too hard, I know I shouldn’t have.”

“Is that why we found the herb store trampled? Or the pups’ prey bitten before they ate?” Naga asked innocently.

He cringed inwardly. The hunting party seemed to be nudged from their silence. Banishment, they uttered, or he’ll will think he’s in charge of the whole pack.

He barely heard anything past that, but he did catch his leader’s somber last words.

“This is not the first time, Ozo. Even I have my limits,” she said quietly. “I’m afraid I can’t help you.”

The slippery woods wouldn’t have been as hard to maneuver if he was calmer. Relentlessly, droplet after droplet slapped across his jaws, the wind slamming against his face as he surged between trees bending in the gale. He could stop, as his legs were begging him too, but a mixture of fury and stubbornness told him the only option was to keep moving forward, because I didn’t deserve this and I am strong and don’t need shelter to survive.

He was still charging aimlessly, when a strong brown blast cut his path off. Mud, and not the roll-about-in kind. He hadn’t realized his camp had been near a hill. It was almost pathetic the way his last thoughts were still on his traitorous pack before the mudslide descended upon him.

Something prodded his flank. Ozo shifted instinctively, immediately restraining a groan at the ache in his hind legs. There was no darkness nor rain; he was out for quite a while. The human lazing across him, had a short tree in its paws, pounding against the bark. If he wasn’t injured, Ozo would gladly have rose to fight. Oddly enough, the sound the human was more soothing than aggressive.

Well, they hadn’t hurt him, merely garbling as he dove deeper into his nest. Maybe he could stay awhile.

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