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

The Iron Writer Challenge #177

2016 Autumn Equinox Challenge Championship

Preliminary Round

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

 The Elements:

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

The Brackets:

richardnorthpatterson

Richard North Patterson Bracket

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

Deserted Life with StarsMamie Pound

Mamie Pound

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

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

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

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

He shook his head. “Donna’s great.”

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

“You okay?”

“I’m bored out of my mind,” she said.

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

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

He looked at her.

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

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

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

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

The sixth grade teacher approached.

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

Rob rolled his eyes.

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

“Sure,” Nancy said, chugged the coffee.

The teacher walked away.

“Are you kidding me?” Rob said.

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

“It was in the catering order.”

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

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

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

“Kind of risky,” he said.

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

“I need the insurance.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah,” he said.

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

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

BuddyGeoff Gore

Geoff Gore

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

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

*****

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

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

Disability

Philip Blaiklock

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

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

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

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

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

“Who … who are you?”

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

“So what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mind your business.”

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

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

“What?”

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

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

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

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

Boxcar FortyAlis Van Doorn

Alis Van Doorn

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

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

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

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

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

“Quiet Finn!”

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

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

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

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

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

“Finley William Smith, Sir.”

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

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

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

“And your name?”

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

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

“Fortescue William Smith.” mumbled Forty.

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

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

“I see.” said William quietly.

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

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

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

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

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

Fortescue and Finley William Smith howled with happiness.

#TIWC members, please vote here.

The Iron Writer Challenge #171, The 2016 Summer Solstice Challenge #8

burnt toast

The Iron Writer Challenge #171

2016 Summer Open Challenge #8

The Paul Arden Lidberg Challenge

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

  Authors:

G. L. Dearman, Philip Blaiklock, Matt Henderson

The Elements:

Burnt Toast

Any Emotion

A Synchronized Olympic Event that has never been in the Olympics

“The Old Country”

Lullaby

G. L. Dearman

I mash buttons, but can’t find men’s synchronized swimming. “There’s no such event,” Patrick says, but I know we won gold once—the old country, Ireland, did. I watched on TV. “You’re thinking of an old comedy skit with Martin Short.” I tell him go ask his mother—Mary will set him right. “No, Grandpa, I’m Brendan. Not Patrick.” A stranger in a nurse’s uniform turns off the TV, tells me I need sleep. “He doesn’t even know me,” Patrick says. She tucks me in like I’m a child, thin blanket around bony shoulders. The only way I can resist her is by closing my eyes and…

…and it’s my Grandfather tucking me in, wool blanket itching my chin, guttering candle throwing deep shadows over his face. I don’t have a bed in Ireland, so he put me in his own. He sings in Gaelic. I can’t remember the words and…

…I tuck the blanket under Brendan’s chin. Patrick and his wife watch from the doorway. I sing—what were the words?—and Brendan tries to sing along, enthusiastic voice stumbling over an alien tongue and…

…Mary’s eyes shine blue even through her white veil. Acrid smoke in my nose wakes me. “Our breakfast, Mary. You’ve burned the toast.” It’s dark and one eye won’t open and where am I? I stand, but my leg crumples and floor smashes cold into my face. My arm isn’t my own, won’t obey, won’t push me up. A chaos of nurses. Someone says, “Another stroke,” and…

…Ireland, but hospital rooms all look the same. Antiseptic linoleum. Second trip, one more coming yet. Grandfather shrank, the white pillows swallow him. His glazed eyes don’t recognize me, but I’m too big to cry and…

…Mary lies still, folded and yellowed like old paper, like if she opens her eyes the lines around them will crack open. Patrick’s grown gray at his temples and unshaven chin. Mary’s eyes have faded to gray, too, but she won’t open them again. Patrick’s arm around my shoulders and…

…a clay-red gash torn in the living green earth swallows Patrick’s coffin. My boy. Brendan’s too big to cry, but too young for this and…

…his hand on my shoulder, he’s come to me across a sea of nurses. “Brendan. The song. I used to.” He shakes his head, doesn’t understand my slurred words. I can’t even cry, this final stroke, a cruel thief, stole even that from me…

…but Mary’s voice—here, somehow, today, singing high and clear. Like an angel…

… but I can’t sing with her, my words drop formless from disobedient lips. It’s enough. Understanding lights Brendan’s eyes. He sings, an effortless baritone. He sounds like Grandfather. I want to smile but my lips refuse and…

…the nursing home melts and drops away, revealing rolling green spangled with white clover, the salt wind of the Irish Sea in my nose. Somewhere, far away, Brendan’s sobs choke the final words of the song. Mary, young again, light in her eyes, glowing blue like a stained-glass Virgin. Her hands warm on mine and her lips…

“I missed you,” I say.

“Welcome home.”
I smile.

Rebuilding Beaver

Philip Blaiklock

Governor Bentley Wise chewed on his tobacco in the dim conference room. Selection results for the 2052 Olympics came on the Holo. Bentley gritted his teeth.

“The final candidates are New Paris, Greater Anglo Authority…” started the lady in a strange accent he still couldn’t reckon. She was from some whackadoodle African country, and boy, had he wined and dined them during their visits.

The holo-reflection gleamed off his assistant George’s dark face. “We got this, Bent. Lord my witness.”

George always kept Bentley right.

“ … Lunar Station 9. And Charleston, West Virginia, The Patriot Republic.” Long pause. “The winner is Charleston, The – ”

Bentley got up, tossing the chair away. He whooped and hugged George.

After the moment of celebration, Bentley saw the chair where Daisy should have been sitting.

Both had been there, five years ago. He remembered the horror hearing the news of his fusion plant in Beaver melting down. “I told you,” Daisy had whispered, “not to skip the safety checks.”

So what if she’d headed the state’s sham environmental department? “It’s not my fault,” he had lied. “You know we need the energy, what with the war eating our coal dry. We have more plants. Nobody gives a whit about Beaver.”

That was when the grip of her hand in his loosened. The sting.

“Redemption!” George hollered, snapping Bentley out.

“Redemption!” Bentley excused himself, and went to his office. He brought Daisy up on mindlink. To tell her to return to the Old Country.

Two years later

The Holo woke Bentley. He checked the time, wishing he could program that damn thing right. “Holy hell, one pm?” he barked. “George, where’s my cheese toast?” He stood and scratched his crotch. Holo was announcing the results of Synchronized Monster Trucks. “Well, damn straight.” He’d excused George to attend that event. “Where you at in there?” he asked as the trucks soared over an Obama effigy in perfect unison.

Bentley sauntered downstairs. Every detail of last night’s drunken bender with the Polish gymnasts flooded back. He looked around the kitchen confusedly. Fine, George, I’ll sort it out. He pulled out slices of Mr. Moo cheese, and Wonderbread. But to toast it? Bentley shrugged. He found the toaster, tipped it on its side, laid the bread and cheese in it, and started it.

Someone knocked on the front door. He went there and opened it. Daisy stood there, hands on her hips.

“Monster Trucks? You outdid yourself.” The look in her slanty Chinese eyes held whimsy.

He hugged her. “So glad you’re back baby.” He took her out to the lawn, told her how Olympic tax revenues were filling state coffers.

“I saw you on the news, and your work to rebuild Beaver. You are a good man.” She ran her hand through his coarse, grey hair.

He turned her over onto the lawn, and gave her a big tongue kiss.

Several minutes later, his body lost in hers, she stopped. She smelled something.

Bentley turned around and saw smoke pouring from the mansion windows. From the kitchen. This time, it was cheese toast burning down his life.

Seamus, Ava, and Irish Soup

Matt Henderson

Ava was looking out of her kitchen window, as the evening started its chilly slant toward nightfall; she knew dinner was late. She had an expression of pensive disdain that she couldn’t hide or fix from her reflection in the window. “Making another pot of potato soup,” she thought, with a sigh. Not what she wanted really, but she had been preoccupied all evening and could make the soup without a thought, just like her mother and her grandmother before. It was a traditional family recipe and she had bought the leeks and mushrooms that morning. The leeks and mushrooms are what made the O’Fithchellaigh formula last for generations.

“B’fhearr an súgh go mór ná an fheoil, “she could hear grandfather laugh. “Soup is the essence of meat.” Creamy potato soup with leeks was simple and easy but the mushrooms gave the soup that bit of that essence of meat. Enough to make an autumn night seem a little better, at least in the old country, and during the worst of the troubles. Add crispy fried bread cubes and a little bit of grated cheese to melt on top and you had a meal. “A little drinkin’ and a little chewin’…makes it right,” her mother would remind her every time they had the soup.

Soup was supposed to be like whiskey. It was supposed to keep you warm and comfortable on cool nights, and set your taste for whatever else was to follow. “But it was just damn Irish soup tonight,” she frowned. Nothing to follow. Not until payday. Then it would be a splurge on Irish lamb with mint and vegetables at Murphy’s Place and plenty of Guinness for Seamus. He liked his beer on payday. She liked him on payday. It seemed like the only time either of them laughed any more. And she had a bad feeling that Seamus had a case of the black dog coming on. He was sitting out on the stoop, reading the paper by the light of the flickering bulb by the door of the brownstone looking for a better job, like always; and tonight, waiting on dinner.

“You should’ve married that soldier…O’Reilly, that bastard. He was for you. He made something of himself. Retired Colonel and working for the Governor. Why you didn’t marry that one, girl…huh?” He would say that about mid-month when the money would run out from his job at fish market. He didn’t want that, but he meant it when he’d ask, with his hands out to his side and tears in his eyes. But it wasn’t so… Ava loved Seamus. He was a smart man. He was a strong man with principles and a big long line of bad luck and a run of decisions that were seemingly pre-determined.

Ava dreaded calling him in for the soup. She had burned the bread just a little. “So much for the essence of meat,” she thought.

Ava walked out to call Seamus in for supper. She put her hand on his shoulder. He looked up at her. “The bread smells good. I hope we are having that soup you make so good.”

#TIWC members, please vote here.