The Iron Writer Challenge #184 – 2017 Spring Equinox Challenge #5

The Iron Writer Challenge #184

2017 Spring Equinox Challenge #5

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Authors:

Keith Badowski, Michael Cottle, Violet Teagan

The Elements:

A naked Barbie doll 
A plumber
Butternut squash
A dog collar.

Autumn’s Dream Job

Keith Badowski

Autumn was home from college, but not for a visit.

“It’s not for me, Mama.  You can’t say I didn’t try it, now can you?”

I didn’t scream.  Give me credit for that, especially after I spent all morning searching for Ellie’s lost Barbie and Herc’s missing collar.  “You got all As, proved any career path is within your reach.  And now you’re quitting?  In October?” 

Autumn raised an eyebrow.  “Not quitting.  Changing course.  You insisted on at least one year.  I did, plus change.  Now I’m doing what I wanted to do right out of high school.”

“Aw no.  Girls like you don’t do jobs like that.  You’d be wonderful at so many other things.” 

  She drowned me out with the processor, pureeing the roasted Butternut Squash for her soup.  Autumn became a vegetarian at school and had developed into an excellent cook.  That gave me hope.  I wasn’t thrilled about the sink filling up with her mess though.  She poured the squash into a pot and dumped the processor pieces into the sink.

“I’ll rinse and load these, but if I allow you to stay, it’s going to be your job,” I said. 

As soon as I rinsed out the plastic base for the processor, orange tinted water rose in the basin.  I poked at the drain with a spoon finding no chunks. 

“Aw crap, we’ve got a blockage.” 

Just then Ellie ran into the kitchen with wet feet.

“The toilet is overflowing!” she bellowed, which got Herc barking and jumping around us, his paws soaked with toilet water. 

Autumn piped up, saying, “Mama, let me take care of it.  You’ll see.  I’m good at it.”

A migraine was coming on.  “No way.  You’ll only make it worse.  I’m calling John.”

My brother the plumber took three hours to get there, and five minutes later he’d cleared the toilet.  The sink drain was more involved.  I had to pull everything out from the cabinet so he could get to the pipes down there. 

“Well, I never!  Anyone missing a naked Barbie and a dog collar?” he said from under the sink. 

“What?  They were shoved in the back of the cabinet?” I asked. 

He wriggled out and held up a soaked dog collar and a bedraggled, armless Barbie—both tinged orange.  “Not in the cabinet.  In the pipe.  Someone who knows their way around plumbing has some explaining to do.”

John and I both looked at Autumn eating soup at the counter.  She raised that one eyebrow again and dropped the Barbie arms beside her bowl. 

“My offer still stands,” said John. “I could use an assistant who can do what you did.  Not that I need anyone to stuff naked Barbies into pipes or anything.  You know what I mean.”

“What do you say, Mama?”

What could I say?  “In our house, there must be millions of things small enough to fit in pipes.”

“Mmm hmmm,” Autumn said, a spoon in her mouth. 

“Fine.  Do what you want, but you’re still in charge of keeping this sink empty.  And, John, you better pay her enough so she can pay rent.”

Butternut Squash

Michael Cottle

Some dogs wear their collars like they are slave collars. Ace wore his with pride. He didn’t know he was a dog. He was a vigilante- a crime fighter by nature. Well, there was that one incident with plumber, but that was long ago. No one even remembered that any more, and who was he to ever remind them? 

Ace kept the peace. He had seen it all. A few stray cats came into town a couple of times. Silly cats strutted their tales around like they owned the place which was more than Ace could stand. He chased them right out of the neighborhood at full speed. Many an hour, he spent lying about in the sun. He stretched out in the grass or in a pile of fresh raked leaves. It was a good life. 

Jessica Johnson was the strangest girl in the neighborhood. And Jessica had dolls- lots of dolls. And she often left them lying around in the backyard. And they were usually naked!

Ace avoided the monstrosities at all costs. But sometimes he would forget in the midst of chasing the proverbial butterfly. And before he knew it, he would be right on top one of them. They’d be sprawled out in the grass or in the Johnson’s flower bed. Ace would cringe, whimper, and ease out of there in a most rapid fashion. 

But, it was pretty late on this day, and Ace’s stomach was already gnawing on his backbone. The Johnsons had baked a ham. And that meant there was a hambone. Sure enough, with this hambone, it was Jessica who whistled and called for him. And ooh, that hambone smelled nice! What was a dog to do?

He answered the call at the wag of a tail, and clamped down on delicious goodness. Yet, no sooner than he did, he spotted one of those naked dolls lying in the grass. He started growling and backing away slowly, jaws still clamped down to the bone marrow. The naked doll began to mock him in a most unseasonable fashion. 

He growled deeper, and the doll laughed. 

He dropped the bone and barked louder. The doll hissed at him, merely playing with his senses. 

Ace turned and ran away, ashamed and whimpering. The neighborhood vigilante defeated by a doll of indecent exposure mocking him in simply her manufacturing suit- he was devastated.

Ace whimpered and howled, but would not return to Jessica’s call. That bone could rot on the ground for all he cared. That doll was the devil. 

“What’s up with that crazy dog?” Jessica’s mother asked.

“Who knows?” Jessica shrugged. “I guess he don’t like him no hambone.”

As it so happened, the only other scraps available that night were from Granny Griggs. Ace turned up his nose, but he had to eat something. That something was unfortunately butternut squash.

And so, for dessert, Ace ate grass. And then he ate more grass. As he sat there under his favorite tree, still a wee bit queasy, his ears perked up at a sound. Was it? Could it be? A cat?

The Iron Writer Challenge #178 – 2016 Autumn Equinox Championship


The Iron Writer Challenge #178

2016 Summer Solstice Challenge Championship

Preliminary Round

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Authors:

Tina Biscuit, Ong Sze Teng, Michael Cottle, Mamie Pound

 The Elements:

An old family recipe
A trough
An electric fence
Banty chickens

Not the Crumbs

Ong Sze Teng

The fine red head rose sleepily, confusion crossing his eyes as Depp darted into their house, flinging the paper down. “It’s us. Breaded Fried Chicken, right?”

Immediately, Baron flinched as if his son had just cursed and was awake at once.

“Digging in human books again?”

Depp rolled his eyes. “It was left at the door. I just flipped it. Why else would I learn to read?”

Baron held his gaze for a moment, then relented with a sigh.

“The crumb covered one?”

The casual tone in his father’s voice was somewhat appalling; they were talking about their kind being sliced and tossed into the very grains they used to eat, before submerged in deep boiling waters. The very thought sent ice running through him.

“You can read? You’ve seen it before?” Depp whispered.

He was answered with a reluctant shake of a head. “It’s been in use by the family since… longer than I can remember. Their favourite recipe too.”

“And everyone’s just settling for this? To imagine they’re entering the fantastical realm of ancestors instead of getting slaughtered?” Baffled, the young rooster shifted towards the walls and leaned against it.

Baron avoided meeting his gaze, but picked up the sheet of paper with a talon. The recipe curled into a roll after a few attempts, and he hopped back awkwardly to tuck it in the furthest nest, the throne of the proudest rooster.

“There. They’ll understand my statement this evening.”

That couldn’t be all, Depp thought, and that was all he could think of as a fresh surge of shame and fury rushed to his head.

“But you’ll be going elsewhere, I suppose.”

As quick as it had come, the wave subsided. “I’m definitely not hanging around to become fried.”

He was in earnest. The pen was suffocating, the other chickens were busybodies, and he never did know which was his mother, nor did he want any of them to be. Almost always had he smartly avoided their ruckus by chatting up cows or pigs in the stys and pens next to his prison. Depp met his father’s gaze as he straightened up. He would have mistaken the glint for pride if he had been more naïve.

“Then go on. This is all I’ve known. For once I don’t have to beg someone to leave because, well, you don’t even want to stay.”

Depp admitted, “I would, if the fences were not prickly.”

His father nodded. “Electricity. There’s an opening at the corner where our side of the fence meets the pigs’.”

Depp was still, surprised, but Baron strutted past him, gesturing with a wing to follow him. It was not a wide range they had and all corners were distant specks but still identifiable.

“Corner, there.”

Depp followed the tips of his feathers, nodding as he noted the spot.

“Hide in the trough while you can, and wait for my signal.”

When the caw came, he had been shaking in anticipation for what seemed like hours. The buzz of the fence was almost nonexistent, while his freedom lay just beyond the hole he was squeezing through.

Jack and The Banty Rooster

Michael Cottle 

Deviled eggs.

Granny Pate said she would make them, but Jack had to bring her six eggs from the chicken pen. Jack could offer little resistance to Granny’s deviled eggs. He couldn’t get enough of them.

But, there was a small problem in the chicken pen. It was Billy the Banty Rooster- the meanest rooster in the state and the whole dang world as far as Jack was concerned. But Jack was strong. Jack was nimble. Jack was quick, and he loved Granny’s deviled eggs. Right now, his hunger was stronger than his fear.

Jack creeped down to the chicken pen with the stealth of a ninja. And there was Billy the Banty Rooster, strutting through the feed trough like he owned the place!

“Stupid rooster”, Jack thought. He would slip over to the hen nests and grab a few eggs before Billy even saw him. “No sense in any confrontation of sorts” Jack thought strategically.

Jack was through the gate, and glanced over his shoulder to make sure Billy wasn’t looking. He noticed the crazy rooster was still kicking out feed from the trough, sifting through it like he might find something better at the bottom of it.

Jack began to check the nests and the first one was empty, but the second nest had two eggs that Jack slipped in his pail. The third nest was empty, and the fourth nest was empty as well. The fifth nest had three eggs! All he needed was one more!

Jack was in such a hurry to gather the eggs and get out, that he was looking over his left shoulder for Billy while he was checking the nest with his right hand. The rooster still hadn’t noticed Jack, but something much worse than any banty rooster had pecked Jack on his hand- a banty setting hen!

“Yow!” Jack yelled as he jumped and stumbled over backwards. It was such a commotion that Billy the Banty Rooster finally noticed and took off after him. Jack quickly scrambled to his feet about half crazy chunking eggs into the pail. The gate was blocked by Billy, so Jack made for the fence, but he forgot all about the fence being electric! Granny Pate just had recently upgraded to keep varmints out.

As you can imagine, when Jack grabbed hold to the fence the pail went flying and eggs went busting. As soon as he came loose from the fence, Billy was on him pecking and clucking like the mean old banty rooster that he was. Poor Jack spun around in a circle, and ran out of the gate just in time to leave the crazy rooster behind.

“What’s all this commotion?” Granny Pate asked walking up.

“It’s Billy” Jack said. “He’s crazy!”

Granny waltzed in the pen yet Billy did nothing. She picked up the pail, grabbed a half dozen eggs and waltzed right out of the pen.

“Billy is just fine. Let’s make some deviled eggs” Granny said.

“Well Granny, you got one thing right” Jack said. “Those eggs are the devil.”

Jumping Jack Flash

Tina Biscuit

The hard tail slammed the rear wheel deep into another pothole as Jack rounded the last bend. His watery eyes focused on the speedometer; he remembered doing this in his youth, when the Bantam was new. It still sounded like a lawnmower, but he had cherished it since he had taken delivery from the BSA factory, and was confident it could still take this corner at 70 mph. The springs in the seat tried to cushion the blows, but his hands were numb with cold, and the constant jarring threatened to shear his hands from their grips. He slowed down when he saw the track ahead of him: every puddle hid a hole, and the light was fading. He could hardly see where the tarmac ended, and the mud began.

It had changed since he had last visited his mother. Back then, his father was still alive, and the farm was still a viable concern. He pulled up the visor on his open-faced helmet, and tried to see the little path that used to be his shortcut. He could see the kitchen light was on, and would ride through the trees, towards the back garden. He would cut the engine at the wall, and try to sneak up on her, like he had done when he was a kid.

He was sure he could smell the chicken broth, filtering on the breeze; his tongue caught raindrops in anticipation. The trees had grown, but there was still a path through them. He stopped by the wall, and looked over to the house. He could see her at the window, but knew that she wouldn’t see him in the crepuscular light. She would have the soup simmering away, like it had for generations before her. Jack switched off the engine, pulled off his helmet, jammed the gauntlets inside it, hooked it over the bars, and leaned the bike against the wall.

It was almost completely dark. Without the headlight, he could barely see. He felt the copes on top of the wall, and ran his hands along them. He soon found the missing ones, reached down, and edged along; a whole section of the wall was missing. He remembered having to jump, but this was more like an awkward step – more awkward when his trailing foot caught the side of an old, rusty bathtub. He didn’t identify it, until he fell headlong into it.His mother must still keep stock, and be using this as a water trough, he thought as he pushed his hair out of his eyes. He stood up, and wiped the worst of the mud from his leathers. He balanced on one leg as he tried to step out with the little dignity that he had remaining. He stretched out a hand, fumbling for support. The thin wire of the fence was a relief, so he grasped it with the other hand, too. His pulse quickened as he leaned forward to extricate his other leg from the bath. The muddy water conducted well.

Another pulse left the battery; the electrical current followed the path of least resistance, and his numb hands shook.

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The Iron Writer Challenge #177, 2016 Autumn Equinox Challenge Championship Preliminary Round, Nancy Taylor Rosenberg Bracket


The Iron Writer Challenge #177

2016 Autumn Equinox Challenge Championship

Preliminary Round

Nancy Taylor Rosenberg Bracket

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

 The Elements:

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


Nancy Taylor Rosenberg Bracket

Maureen Larter, Michael Cottle, Bobby Salomons, Dani J. Caile

The Double ActDani-J-Caile

Dani J Caile

I’d never come out of that front door so fast in my life. I thought someone was dying with the amount of hollering I heard. But they weren’t. I looked around, and there he was, my little brother Johnny sitting on the porch, playing Grandpa’s old banjo badly and singing along to it – if that was singing, the only similarity being that it came from his mouth – while Timbo the dog tied up on his chain, normally a vicious little creature, barked and whined next to him.

“Johnny! What the hell are you doing?” I’d been left in charge for the afternoon but I must’ve dozed off in the heat.

“Playing to Timbo,” said Johnny, messing up notes and timing as he went along. His hands didn’t walk along the fingerboard, more like stumbled.

“That’s Grandpa’s banjo! You can’t play that!” I moved closer but the noise only got louder.

“That’s what you think. Timbo likes my playing.” Timbo barked and growled in agreement.

“No, you’re not allowed to play it, Johnny, it’s a family heirloom!” I went to reach for it but Timbo almost snapped my hand off. His saliva dripped from my sleeve.

“It’s not a hair loon, it’s a banjo! See!” He concentrated hard with his tongue hanging from his mouth, and he scratched at the instrument as best he could.

“Johnny! You’ll ruin it! What will Ma and Pa say when they get back?” There was no hiding place from the din.

“They will say what a great banjo player I am!” My little brother and the family’s guard dog. A great double act.

“Please, Johnny, stop!” I was sure my ears had started bleeding.

“I will never stop! I will play forever and ever! I will play this banjo everywhere!”

“Oh, come on! They…they won’t let you play it in school!”

“Oh yes, they will! They will call me ‘Johnny Banjo’!”

“It’s more likely that your life will be in danger, Johnny! You’re gonna suffer a lot of bullying when you get to school! Banjos aren’t cool, bro, trust me! It’ll make you look like some redneck, or even worse, like that mountain hillbilly kid in ‘Deliverance’,” I said, pressing my hands over my ears as he hit some bum notes in whatever song he thought he was singing.

“Who? Is that a place?” smiled Johnny. He continued to twang along as the dog accompanied him with moans and yelps.

“No, it’s a movie!”

“I don’t like movies. I like the banjo!” he replied, plucking away. The noise was excruciating!

“Oh man, there’s a limit to what I can take!” I screamed. With one quick thought, I took Timbo’s chain off. Realising he was free, he took one look at the banjo and ripped it from Johnny’s hands. The strings were the first to go, followed by the neck and finally the head. Good boy!

“You’re in for it now,” I said to Johnny. He ran into the house crying at full volume. Plus one.

Short and SweetMaureen Larter

Maureen Larter

“I’m ashamed of you, son.” his father said gruffly. “Standing out there in the street, jiggling about to the music.”

“But I love performing – it gives me a sense of belonging. I really enjoy the sound of the banjo – it makes me happy.”

“I don’t care,” his father growled. “There’s a limit to what we should do to please the crowd.”

“It’s only a front, you know,” Billy nodded to his Dad a wise knowing in his eyes. “I do it so I’m there when the bullying starts.”

His father frowned. “What bullying?”

Billy cleared his throat and stood tall. “The other kids treat my human as if he’s a freak, and it isn’t fair.”

“Stop whining,” His father shook his head. Spittle and hair scattered across Billy’s face.

“But Daaaad,” Billy rolled onto his back and pawed the air. “My human is a happy little chap, and if those bullies get to him his life might be in danger.”

“Oh for goodness sake, Billy,” his father howled. “You keep this ‘performing’ up and I’ll let the cat know – and then it will be YOUR life that’ll be in danger!”

A Glimmer of HopeBobby Salomons

Bobby Salomons

There was something soothing about the absurdity of a young boy playing banjo to a dog. To him a friend was a friend. There was no separation, no judgement, no prejudice to who and what he was – just the simple given of a friendship. Surely the dog knew not what was played to him but he listened intently, as to him the friendship was just as dear.

I reminisced on the meaning of friendship in a small town like this. Though I grew up here, friendship I never knew. There was a strange tradition of bullying, one founded on old principles and targets picked by careful choice. It mattered little what effort would be made, once you were picked on, you’d get picked on again. And word spread like wild fire, who was to be ignored, it knew not a limit to a school or a playground and it grew with you over time. Like a social cancer, without warning and without treatment.

The threshold of being picked on was set by simple principles. Wrong of color, wrong church, parents falling out of grace after a divorce or simple rumors of. Conditions easy to reach with no intent or control of your own. Still they were enough to haunt you.

The chords of the banjo returned me to the present as I had wallowed in self grief. The dog raised its head towards the sky and stretched its chest like a great tenor worthy. From its throat yodelled the ugliest of sounds that hurt the ears like needles. But the young boy smiled with intense delight. They were performing now, together. And that was all they needed.

I sat and watched the two till my ears could no longer give. I grabbed the lid from the hood of the vehicle and placed it onto the lukewarm Styrofoam cup. Before it closed well, I could see how my pigments matched the caffeinated innards of the cup. Bullied for that simple reason.
But as the dog wailed once more, I could not press back the smile that formed from ear to ear. Those days were behind me.

The muffled noise of radio chatter slipping through a window crack. A life in danger.

As I opened the door to step into my vehicle, the light struck my badge and a golden glimmer blinkered across the street. They met the eyes of the young boy – blinding momentarily. He looked at me and smiled. A small hand raised to greet me as I drove passed to answer my duty. To protect and serve – free of the limitations of separation, without judgement and prejudice.


Michael Cottle

Chip found a spot under a large pecan tree where he settled down upon the sidewalk. He traveled light with a peanut butter sandwich in a sack and a banjo strapped around his neck. Sure enough, Buster came up and sat right down beside him. He looked at Chip and turned his head sideways as he made a small whining sound.

“Buster, you already had your breakfast” Chip said. “This is mine boy.”

Buster whined again and turned his head to the other side.

“Alright boy” Chip said. “Here, take half of this. There’s only one sandwich though, so that half is for you and this half for me. That’s all I got. Ok?”

Buster grabbed his half, and chewed on it until the peanut butter coated his mouth. Buster was still working on the peanut butter when Chip finished his sandwich and washed it down with a thermos of milk.

 “It’s really sticky” Chip said. “Here you go.”

 Chip raised the last little bit of milk in his thermos and poured it into Buster’s mouth.

 “That’ll help a bit boy” Chip said.

Chip put away his lunchbox and turned to his banjo. He began to play a bit of “Turkey in the Straw” as Buster finally stopped licking. Buster rested his face on his paws, and there they sat awhile just like that. Chip played every song he knew a couple of times over.

There may have been many more afternoons to pass like this, except for a kid named Bobby. He rode up on his bicycle popping wheelies and generally showing out a bit. Chip stopped playing and looked away. He never cared much for Bobby. Bobby was never too nice towards Chip, or anyone else that Chip knew for that matter.

“Watcha doin’ there Chip?” Bobby asked as he stopped his bicycle. “Are you playing your geetar?”

“It’s a banjo” Chip said.

 “You wouldn’t know how to play a real geetar anyway. Would ya? I’ll bet your old man couldn’t ford a real geetar. And that’s why you play that stupid banjo. It sounds like a drunk chicken with its head cutoff. You hear me Chip?”

Chip wouldn’t look at Bobby. He wanted him to go away, but he wouldn’t. Bobby threw his bicycle on the ground, and grabbed Chip by his shirt collar.

“Look at me when I’m talkin’ to ya’ boy!”

Bobby shook Chip, and Chip swallowed hard. Chip could hardly speak when Buster let go a low growl. Bobby wadded up Chips’ shirt, and that was more than enough for Buster. Buster jumped up and clamped on Bobby’s wrist. Bobby fell backwards and begin to holler in a panic. Finally, Chip recovered just in time to pull Buster off of Bobby before he done much more damage.

Bobby took a few stitches in his left wrist, but he never messed with Chip again. Chip never really got over Buster being put to sleep. Chip lost his audience, and gave up the banjo. Most folks in town said that bulldogs are just like that. They said that you couldn’t really trust them anyway.

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