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 #161 – 2016 Spring Open Challenge #9

 The Iron Writer Challenge #161

2016 Spring Open Challenge #9

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Authors:

She Teng Ong, Paul Arden Lidberg, Megan Cypress, Malissa Greenwood

The Elements:

Fire Tornado

Field mice

Fish

Eye goggles

Her Turf

Sze Teng Ong

There’s nothing quite like the quaint country side, with the crisp air all around and the soft grass beneath your feet as gentle sunlight slides past the teasing clouds and dances across fields.

“How’s the catch this afternoon, ladies?”

Tiny snouts peeked out from their hiding places among the dandelion, squeaking their answer proudly, followed by softer high pitched murmurs.

“Is that so?”

The old man heaved himself off the chair. His fishing boat awaited him, business as usual and down to the lake he went. The city dwellers’ tents were set up near his own inn and fishing spot, despite their eagerness to get close to the great outdoors. With breakfast settled, the intruders howled their displeasure at the lack of morning activity. As the old man scuttled towards his boat along the dirt path, a screech resounded and he could sense five pairs of eyes boring into the back of his head.

The pack closed on him, and their cackling was followed by wads of cash handed over, their target the boat by the dock and the fishing equipment. With that, they set off for the lake, leaving the old man crouched on the dock. “Only a day, huh. You’d think they’d learn by now.”

Underneath the surface of the water, gleaming bodies neared. A sudden sharp blast of cold wind streaked across the side where the old man had knelt, slicing the smooth line of ripples and shocking the fish underneath. In eerie unison they swarmed towards the center of the lake, heading for the boat and its noisy occupants.

Whirling around, the old man shot for their campsite with renewed energy. The eye goggles hung loosely from the old man’s arm, above the charred spot where a fire was once lit.

“Yours, Milady!”

Murky grey clouds gathered above the pristine lake as fiercer winds emerged from surrounding mountains, howling their arrival. Merciless gales were soon wrenching trees and surrounding tents. Slowly a column of grey and brown built up on the lake side, churning in its dangerous dance. A single streak of lightning darted down towards pine trees by the dock, the tallest victim set ablaze. Its partner-in-crime had built up to a tornado, edging closer and closer to the fire. With careful maneuvering it avoided the house by the dock, and leaned towards the burning tree instead to absorb the flames, a flurry of orange and black.

As the fire tornado built up, there was no mistake in their worried yells, but the fish had surrounded the bottom of the boat, bumping it to make it go in circles no matter how it was directed. With its target locked on, the fire tornado left the lake edge and entered the water.

While the old man lowered his arm, the tiny mice gathered back at his feet, squeaking their songs of victory as the tornado blazed.

“For you, my queen!”

There’s nothing quite like the quaint country side, with the old man ruling the vast lands and mice teasing your feet as pristine lakes and vast fields set the stage for Mother Nature to test her unique creations.

The Summoning

Paul Arden Lidberg

He stood gazing at the diagram he’d scratched out of the panhandle dirt. It was the most perfect pentagram ever made! Using GPS technology and an old plow, he had meticulously carved the shapes into exquisite and precise detail. He knew how important it was to get these things correct, and he was determined that nothing would stand in his way.

Placing all the tools back in the trailer, he donned the ceremonial turban and breech cloth. His scrawny arms were caked with sweat and dust, his eyes squinting against the setting sun. It was almost time.

Very quickly he lit the candles – one at each vertex, and larger ones at the major points. The still night air kept the candles from being blown out. He was ready.

Striding to the center of the 100 foot wide diagram, he carefully sat cross-legged near the the center. Within arms reach were all the necessary items for the sacrifice that would grant him ultimate power.

First he donned the eye goggles, vision protection being something he knew would be important. Then he began to chant…

“ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn”  Again.

“ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn”

He reached over and pulled out a barely alive perch and a trout. Holding them above his head, he chanted “ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn”

He then lowered them to the ground before him. Using the ceremonial dagger, he gutted first one and then the other. Placing them over his hands like mittens, he waved them and continued chanting “ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn”

Tossing the fish to either side, he reached into a cage and pulled out two drugged field mice. He chanted “ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn”

He placed them on the ground before him, then smacked them both with ceremonial mallet. He chanted “ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn”

“I have sacrificed of the land and of the sea” he shouted. “You will come and do my bidding!”

“ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn”  Again.

“ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn”

Finally, a flame appeared in the center of the pentagram. It was an unearthly flame, flickering with blue and green and twisting about as it grew larger and larger. It started to spin and turn, resembling nothing so much as a tornado made of fire. And it continued to grow.

The heat from the flame was intense, and he was finally forced to back out of the diagram. After scrambling to the edge, he looked back in wonder at what he’d wrought.

“ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn”  Again.

“ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn”

A voice issued from the flame.

“Hello? Hello?”

“Cthulhu! I summon you to do my bidding!” He stood defiantly at the edge.

“I’m sorry, they moved.”

“What?” His confidence was shaken.

“Yeah, the moved years ago. This isn’t his number no more.”

“Wait, umm…do you know where I might find him?” His eyes darted back and forth at this bizarre turn.

“Sorry sweetie, I just don’t know. Bye!”

This was definitely the last time he’d buy Demon Summoning directions off Ebay.

© Copyright 2016 Paul Arden Lidberg

Safety Goggles

Malissa Greenwood

Bobby and I are sitting in our small room reading his favorite book by candlelight when I hear the gunfire. He turns his little face up to me, eyes wide and waiting. We listen a moment longer in silence until I determine that we should move.

“Bobby, why don’t we keep telling stories in our secret room? Would that be OK?”

He nods obediently and grabs his goggles off the table, quickly slipping them over his eyes. I think most children grow up with safety blankets or favorite toys, but Bobby clings to his goggles like they are a super hero cape, putting them on whenever he needs to be brave. I used to giggle and tell him that he looks like a fish, but these days there is not much to laugh about. Instead I feel grateful that he has found a method to cope.

I walk over to the corner of the room and slide a bookcase half a meter to the left, revealing a tunnel just large enough for children to crawl through.

“Do you have your bag?”

He nods as he pulls his backpack out of his cubby, already packed with two bottles of water, packaged snacks, and some matches. Then he drops to his knees and wiggles into the tunnel ahead of me. I take a quick look around the room wondering if I should grab anything else. I remember the family photo in the back of Bobby’s book. I snatch it out and tuck it into my shirt before shimming into the tunnel feet first so that I can move the bookcase back into position.

Creeping backward through the tunnel I can hear the gunshots, growing louder and more threatening. I can also hear and feel the mice scurrying around me. Our parents had built this hidden passageway into the field knowing that there would be a time when we would need to hide from the soldiers. They hoped we would be safe, even if they weren’t around to protect us.

When I feel my foot reach a drop-off I know that I can step down onto a ladder and lower myself into the room.

Settled next to Bobby on the dirt floor I whisper to him “You want to tell me a story Bobby?” He remains quiet, clutching my sleeve. “How about the one with the fire tornado that rips through the enemy camp? You love that story.” I prompt.

He reaches up, adjusting his goggles and I know he is too afraid to talk. I understand this and I know it’s better to be quiet so I simply put my arm around him and we sit together in the small dark space, waiting… waiting for the gunshots to stop; waiting to feel safe; waiting for the war to be over.

Fluffy’s Fable

Megan Cypress

There once was a kitty named Fluffy, who loved nothing more than to chase and kill the field mice in the forest where she lived. One day, a good fairy appeared to warn Fluffy of the dangers of her propensity for violence.

“Relax,” Fluffy said. “They’re just mice.”

“And you’re just a cat.”

“I don’t need your advice.” Fluffy swiped her paw at the good fairy as the good fairy flew away and disappeared into a branch of a nearby cypress tree. Fluffy paid no attention to the good fairy’s warning and continued to chase and kill the field mice.

The good fairy came back to Fluffy and told her, “You’ve been warned once already. You need to change your evil ways before it’s too late.”

Again, Fluffy ignored the good fairy’s warning and chased an entire family of field mice to the lake by the forest. She killed every last one of them. Even the children. Their bodies lay slain across the bank of the lake.

The good fairy’s evil twin sister appeared in a cloud of smoke in front of Fluffy. “Look at all these bodies collecting. Keep up the good work.”

“But what about the good fairy? She told me not to hurt these mice.”

“Don’t listen to her. What does she know?”

Fluffy continued killing until all the mice in the forest were dead. The evil fairy re-appeared with a grin upon her face and smoke around her body.

“Did I do good?” Fluffy asked.

“Indeed you did, my child.” The evil fairy laughed maniacally and spun around in circles until she formed a tornado of fire.

“Hey, stop it!” Fluffy shouted. “I did what you said to do.”

“You’ve had your fun. Now it’s my turn.” The tornado of fire spread throughout the forest.

Fluffy heard the good fairy crying from the cypress tree.

“Help!” Fluffy pleaded to the good fairy.

“It’s too late!” the good fairy cried.

The cyclone of fire rushed toward Fluffy, who panicked and nose-dived into the lake.

Fish of every color of the rainbow swam around the bottom of the lake, in a home made out of an abandoned pair of human goggles.

The fish scattered as Fluffy swam closer. Only one bright red fish remained. “You can’t be here,” the fish said. “You’re a land dweller. Go home.”

“But my home’s on fire.”

“That’s not my problem. This isn’t your home.”

Fluffy became light-headed as she felt herself running out of oxygen. She swam to the surface and tried to catch her breath. She watched the forest burn down around her. Her parents abandoned her in that forest when she was a kitten. And now there was no forest left.

Poor Fluffy tried to swim as long as she possibly could, but soon she grew tired and could no longer stay afloat. Fluffy drowned and sunk to the bottom of the lake, landing near the goggles the rainbow fish called home. The fish feasted on the cat’s carcass. Their mouths pecked and sucked on her flesh and meat until all that was left of poor Fluffy was bones.

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