The Iron Writer Challenge #169, 2016 Summer Open Challenge #6

Sonja Henie

The Iron Writer Challenge #169 

2016 Summer Open Challenge #6

The Paul Arden Lidberg Challenge

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

  Authors:

Richard Russell, Steven Harz, Bobby Salomons, Alex Grabovski, Malissa Greenwood

The Elements:

A stapler

A program for the 1939 World Series

Mao’s personal copy of his Little Red Book

Sonja Henie

The Staple in the Chairman’s Finger

Sasha Grafit (also known on Facebook as Alex Grabovskiy)

“We will arrive in Wuhan in 47 minutes, chairman.”

The train gently swayed as if to agree with Yang’s prediction.

“There will be no disturbances until then.” came the command.

Yang bowed retreating through the polished wooden door. His departing footsteps were swallowed by the hushed roar in the connecting hallway. Another door was opened and the chairman heard a brief moment of laughter from the restaurant car. Then his door slid shut with a heavy click; a faint odor of pungent cigarettes–the sharp smell of the ones with his face on the pack –had managed to slip through in the last moment.

In his comfortable, cracked leather chair the chairman squirmed and sniffed the second-hand exhalations. He detected something exciting as well — ginger and sesame oil – his favorite cucumber salad would be served at dinner, when he returned to the train. If he didn’t finish the meeting with the bureaucrats quickly the salad would turn bitter and unfresh.

He lit a cigarette, one from a pack with the picture of a giraffe. His tonsils throbbed with pleasure and submitted to the overpowering smoke of the Turkish and Virginia tobacco blend. He scratched the scaly skin of the mole on his chin and looked at the pile of correspondence that had been on this table for the past few hours, since the mail collection in Xi’an.

He ignored the garish boxes wrapped in silk and scented ribbons and reached for the one wrapped in plain brown paper with the foreign writing. There was a Norwegian customs stamp.

Inside the package, he was startled to see the first addition of a book he had written long ago, the one made cheaply and quickly when he was young; it’s cover was a faded orange now. He cringed as he remembered the many botched symbols and inky errors that the cut-rate press had allowed into the hasty printing.

Out of its pages fell a letter folded many times to fit. The writing was Sung-Jing’s beautifully horrendous attempt at Mandarin: the characters were all crooked, and the whole thing was written in a nearly illegible childish scrawl. He struggled to make sense of the incongruous characters: “If you gotted this paper word it meant I dead.” He dropped the letter.

Inside the box was a pamphlet with robust American men running with their strange whiskers on the perfectly trimmed grass in a stadium and the number 1939. He took out, with shaking hands, a strange metal contraption that resembled an elongated bird beak. His finger slipped comfortably into the groove between its upper and lower jaw. He pushed the top and felt nothing, but when he pulled out his finger a shiny metal clip was embedded neatly in his nail. Another one of Song-Jiang’s weird doodads from her world travels, the chairman smiled even as a heavy emptiness formed in his chest.

He pushed the button for the intercom with his bloody finger: “Yang, you will please serve the salad now.”

A Key and a String and a KiteSteve Harz

Steven Harz

 

As I suppose Columbus had in his pocket while he sailed the ocean blue,

I try to locate your whereabouts with a polished brass pocket compass.

 

As Sonja Henie spun, with gold around her neck, I skate swirls around your memory

while staring at her on the silver screen, letting you know that you’re

“One in a Million” and not anyone’s “Second Fiddle.”

 

As I’ve seen Gandhi wear, while nonviolently battling the Brits,

I attack old photos of us through round lenses and gold frames.

 

As I use my vintage red Swingline Tot Stapler to reattach the pages of my father’s

1939 World Series program, his first without the beloved Gehrig and his deadly disease,

I also staple together map pages showing where we’d started and where I am now without you.

 

As I’d learned da Vinci designed, along with his helicopter and scuba gear,

hanging on my wall and awaiting your return is an all-too-painfully accurate clock.

 

As with the 267 pieces of propaganda published by the People’s Liberation Army,

and contained in the dog-eared Little Red Book nestled inside Chariman Mao’s olive uniform,

I navigate through past tattered love letters, now propaganda in their own right.

 

As we were taught that Hancock used to wield his name across the Declaration,

on my desk is a pen that I’ve used, too often, to denounce my own independence.

 

As we know Franklin flew when he discovered electricity,

I have a key and a string and a kite that I send up each day

like a beacon hoping to be struck and set fire to,

so that wherever on earth you are

you will know I’m still here.

The MarkBobby Salomons

Bobby Salomons

He sat down next to me with a gentle thud, staring as the horses approaching the starting gates, ignoring my piercing gaze. He was older, weathered face and formal dress – just like about everyone else around.

“Could you be any more obvious?” He grumbled.

“Sorry, I just wasn’t sure.” I said.

He turned his head, a half smirk that lasted no longer than a second.

“Rookies.” He reached into his pocket, “Here.”

A small envelope – very fine of crisp beige paper so thin it was almost translucent.
“I’m guessing that’s the news then.” I said and nonchalantly tried to slide it into my pocket.

A hand firmly grabbed my wrist.

“Open it.” He said.

“Here?”

“This one needs some explaining.”

The crowd roared as the gates opened and beasts of game thundered by. I opened the small envelope and stared at the photo.

“Sonja Henie?” I said, a deep frown forming.

“You understand why this needs explaining now?” He said.

“She’s the mark?!” I hissed.

“No – the lead.”

“How? Why?”

“Mao.”

“Mao?”

“He’s been reaching out to sports figures that compete internationally as moles. Either makes them sympathetic to the cause or slips them fists full of cash. Lets just say Intel found some interesting things in this broad’s belongings.”
“Tell me.”

He paused for a moment and looked at the stub in his gloved hand, horses half way down the track. It surprised me to find a fellow agent gambling on horses.
“Mao’s personal copy of his little Red Book.” He made eye contact for just a moment.

“Christ, she’s full blown commie.”

“That’s not all we found. It’s in the envelope.”

I reached in and wriggled my fingers around, I touched something made of a stiffer paper and pulled it out. A program and tickets for the 1939 World Series. I looked at him.

“Don’t you get it, rookie?” He said, “That’s her contact. One of the players. A fellow sportsman, another goddamn red, right in our midst. That’s your mark.”

“I see.” I said sliding the envelope into my breast pocket.

“Congratulations, kid. You’re going to the World Series! All you have to do is follow her and wait for her to meet the bastard, probably somewhere in the stadium. Then, make your move.”

“What if she starts screaming?”

The horses crossed the finish line, my contact rose up, looked at his bet one last time before throwing it up in the air into and endless storm of stubs – a whirlwind of disappointment. Agents ought to know better.

“Goddammit! You never goddamn win!” His face was red with anger.

“What if she screams?” I said.

“What?”
“When I take care of this guy, what if she starts screaming?”

“I don’t know! Bring a stapler! Nail the bitch’s mouth shut! You’ll figure something out! Besides, she won’t scream. She knows you’ll shoot her too.”

He turned around and walked off – he was right. She wouldn’t scream and I wouldn’t hesitate. I never did.

Unit 143

Malissa Greenwood

It was already close to midnight when I pulled up to the storage facility. Less than twenty four hours ago I had found out that my beloved Aunt Eloise had died and named me responsible for her estate. I had always loved Eloise. Even after her mind started to go, I enjoyed listening to her crazy, imaginative stories.

I walked into the building and approached a security guard seated behind a front desk.

“Good evening ma’am. Do you have some identification?” he asked.

“Uh, yeah, I have an ID,” I began ruffling through my handbag, “but I don’t think I’m on your list or whatever. My aunt just died and I’m in charge of her estate.”

The guard looked at me flatly, still holding his hand out.

“What is your aunt’s name?” he asked after I had given him the ID.

“Eloise Hannigan. She left the key with the lawyers, I have it right here…” The guard looked at his computer, back at me and then back at the ID.

“Ok Miss Hannigan, I’ll buzz you though.”

Well at least I wouldn’t have to worry about robberies, I thought as I opened the thick metal door and started down the corridor in search of unit 143.

I inserted the key into the old lock and lifted the rickety garage style door. I’m not sure what I expected to find but what I saw was somewhat surprising. Instead of the typical unorganized clutter you might expect to find from a ninety-five year old woman, it was set up like a tiny living room; a loveseat, a coffee table and an end table with a lamp all positioned on one wall and a neat row of boxes along the other wall. Placed on the coffee table was a shoe box with an envelope leaning against it.

I dusted off the old loveseat and sat on the edge before gently opening the lid of the shoebox. I began taking out the contents, admiring them one by one. It was an odd assortment – an autographed program from an old World Series dated 1939; a gold medal from the 1936 Olympics in Bavaria; a picture of Aunt Eloise with a beautiful brunet, ‘Sonia Henie – 1940’ scribbled on the back; a little red book with Chinese lettering wrapped in plastic with MOA printed on it; a stapler, which with a button on the bottom that when pressed sprung a knife out the front.

“What on Earth?” I said out loud and moved on to the letter.

“My sweet niece Alley,

Inside these boxes you will find many stories. But of all my adventures and all my memories, this box holds my very favorite. I am entrusting it all to you, so that you may write my story and carry on my legacy. ”

Who was this woman? What had she seen and never spoke about? Or tried to tell me but I had brushed it off as an old senile woman with an imagination.

I took a look around the storage unit and realized, I had several boxes to help me find out.

The Fate of a QuislingRichard Russell

Richard Russell

It had only been a few months since North Vietnam overran Saigon. Nothing much had changed for Hung Chiem in the mail room except for the repressive feeling of angst which pervaded the entire office. The new Communist party managers watched everyone very closely, but they hadn’t had time to screen for dissidents.

Hung admired his original copy of the 1939 world series program hanging above his desk. Baseball was the greatest game ever invented, he thought. He dreamed of going to America and attending a real big league ballgame. His co-worker, Phuong, approached Hung, “You better put that program out of sight. That’s enough to get you killed, you know.” Hung looked surprised, but responded, “It’s okay, Phuong. Don’t worry about me.” Phuong smiled. “We’re going for lunch. You coming?” Hung turn off his desk lamp and they all hurried off, laughing and joking.

A few days later the Communist party official from the local office came around to question all the employees in the building, and sure enough, the world series program was noticed. “You like American baseball, um let me see, Hung?” he queried. Hung was very clever and had prepared for this eventuality. “Sir, please understand the situation here. Before we were freed from the capitalist regime controlling us, this poster was merely camouflage.” Hung took the poster down and tore the program out of the frame. Hidden behind it was a very worn-out copy of Chairman Mao’s little red book. Hung handed the book to the official. “Look at the handwriting in the book. This was Chairman Mao’s personal copy. He gave it to me when I met him a few years ago. I was in China for a Communist rally when our paths crossed. I could hardly believe he really talked to me, a lowly mail clerk, but he was proud of my low position and sought to encourage me.”

Of course, the inscriptions in the book were forged by Hung, but after Hung suggested that efficiency could improve in the mail-room if the other capitalist workers were replaced by loyal Communists, he was given clearance to keep working in the office and promoted to head of the mail-room. Subsequently, his old co-workers were fired and some were arrested.

Within a few months, Hung became very frustrated at work because the Communist co-workers didn’t recognize his seniority, so he had no real power at all. Not only were things worse at work, but he also had become a pariah among the non-communist, nationalist crowd.

Depressed and dejected, Hung meandered down the street in a drunken pity-party one night. Several of his former co-workers passed by, stapling anti-communist bulletins to signs and store-fronts in the dark.   One of them commented to the others, “Hey look, it’s Sonja Henie!” Then they jumped him, screaming, “Traitor!” and “Turncoat!” They violently beat and kicked him until he was bleeding and unconscious. Next, someone took the staple gun and stapled a piece of paper that read, “Quisling” to his forehead.

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The Iron Writer Challenge #164 – 2016 Spring Equinox Open Finals

The Iron Writer Challenge #164

2016 Spring Solstice Open, Final Round

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

Authors:

Mamie Willoughby Pound, Richard Russell, C. S. E. Greenberg, Tina Biscuit

The Elements:

Around the Campfire

The Blue Star Kachina

Fossilized remains of a three-legged fruitbat

Main character grandparent was executed

It’s the End of Our World … As We Know ItRichard Russell

Richard Russell

Five teenage boys gazed into the flickering campfire as Alex continued, “And still today you can find the fossilized remains of the grossly disfigured three-legged fruit bats right here in this valley. Some say they still live here, looking to drink warm blood… from their victim’s eye socket.”

Dave shifted, “Okay, Alex, first, fruit bats don’t drink blood. And second, there’s really not much blood in an eye socket.”

Dave turned to the others. “Guys?”

The vote was unanimous; sentence was passed. “Alex, your story is LAME, so you must drink the poison.” Alex threw back his “punishment” and shuddered; bourbon was NOT his favorite.

Sam rose. “Okay, it’s my turn, but be forewarned, this is as gruesome as it gets!”

Several eyes rolled in disbelief as a few more beers were opened.

“This happened right here in the valley, just over there by that oak tree. My grandparents were living in the cabin on the ridge with no electricity, no running water, and no internet service …”

Bob shuddered, “Your weirdin’ me out, Sam!”

Sam smiled and continued, “and the family was starving. So Grampa takes his gun and comes down the river to shoot some dinner. Well, this side of the creek belonged to them Jacksons that lived in the holler, and they caught Gramps huntin’ on their land, so they tied Grampa to that old oak right there and executed him; cut him wide open and all his guts fell out. ‘Course, they were starvin’ too, so they took his body home and ate him. But here’s the thing; this happened just a few weeks ago and I can prove it.” Sam jumped up, ran to the oak and shined his flashlight on an old, dried-up pile of intestines.

They all vocalized their objection to Sam’s tactics emphatically. “So, we’re camping right here with that old stinkin’ pile of deer guts right there!?” Sam, a bit crest-fallen, retorted, “Hey, ya gotta give me credit for creativity!”

Dave conceded, “That’s gross, but he’s got a point. Nobody else has used props. I vote ‘approved’!” The others concurred, and sentence was passed. All but the storyteller had to “drink the poison.”

Spying the blue rays of an LED flashlight working its way through the woods toward them, Bob quickly began his story.

“Have you guys ever heard of the Blue Star Kochina?”

“No.”

“Well, it’s the Hopi Indian spirit of doom; that comes to earth as a blue star to destroy the world due to rampant human corruption. And guys,, I think Kochina’s fixin’ to rain doom down on us … RIGHT NOW!”

They turned in time to see the blue light crashing through the woods as several outraged parents burst onto their camp-site.

“Samuel Thomas Jenkins, you’re GROUNDED!”

“David and Daniel, how could you DO this to your mother?!”

“Robert William Wakowski, you LIED to us!”

“Where’d you boys get this alcohol?”

Bob glanced sideways at the others and whispered, “True story.”

The Coming of Saquasohuh

C. S. E. Greenberg

Hanai tapped his bound feet against the kiva wall. It was difficult for him to keep the rhythm of the sacred dance. Grandfather stood beside the fire, blood dripping from the feathers that Grandmother had carefully woven into his hair. The fire popped and crackled as the Katsina mask that he had worn burned next to the pieces of his Pahos.

“Mighty glad we caught this heathen trying to magic up trouble.” said their captor, his beady eyes reflecting the firelight.

He removed his hat, and turned to the parson brooding near the fire. “Not to say that I’m afraid of injun magic, mind. I’m a good Christian, and ain’t nobody got power over me. But who knows what sorta evil that redskin was trying.”

The parson stared through the hole in the roof into the night sky. His eyes refocused, and he turned to the man. “Shut up, Whittaker. The Lord hates a Christian liar worse than an honest pagan.” He snorted. “Hopefully, the injun’ll see reason before we hang him.”

Whittaker kicked the leather pouch that lay at Grandfather’s feet. Hanai yelped in protest, and Grandfather glared at him. Hanai smoothed his face and remained silent. He knew that white men could not be allowed to defile the fossil of the sacred sawya, the three-legged bat that Saquasohuh had gifted the Hopi as a symbol of their stewardship over Túwaqach, the fourth world.

Hanai kept tapping. Hopefully, Grandfather would find a way to continue the ritual of the Kachina dance, and help guide the sun back from it’s winter slumber. Grandfather shifted his feet slightly. Whittaker kicked him in the stomach, and turned to the parson. “You know the sheriff’s gonna say that he’s gotta hang; why don’t we just kill him now?”

The parson looked over at the man. “You’re right.” He pulled out his Winchester. “Mr. Medicine man, do you wish to confess your sins before you meet your maker?”

Grandfather did not reply.

“Alrighty, then. Boy, cover your ears if you can.” The parson fired. Grandfather, unbowed before any taqaa, toppled. Blood speckled Hanai’s face as Grandfather whispered, “Don’t… let… Saquasohuh… dance.”

Hanai stopped tapping his feet, and instead began to chant. “Oh Kachina of the Blue Star, hear my plea! This world is koyaanisqatsi, corrupt. Use my body to dance before these unitiated fools! Remove your mask and destroy Túwaqach! The ceremonies have ended! No more shall we dance for Soyal, to return the Sun from the slumber of winter!”

Whittaker looked at the parson, confused. “What in tarnation is that youngster going on about?”

The parson turned back to Whittaker and shook his head. “I don’t rightly know, John. His grandfather must’ve turned him injun. Once he’s safely home, I’m sure I’ll be able to bring him back to Christ.”

Hanai stared through the hole in the kiva, out into the star-spotted sky. He smiled as a bluish dot on the western horizon became a streak, then a blur, as Sasquasohuh danced across the sky. Blue fire rippled through the atmosphere as he came to dance the world away.

Big Kachina Burger

Tina Biscuit

The last smile of the moon dropped below the invisible horizon. The campfire flared as chicken fat ignited in violent plumes. As I walked back, I could see my father’s face – telling his story.

There were eleven more faces around him – some of my friends, some of the scouts. We were recreating a battle against Mexico, for the centenary, but apart from the hats, it was an excuse to camp out. I listened to the end of my dad’s story:

‘… and when he chipped out the last piece of stone, we saw’, he paused for a few seconds, ‘a third leg!’

I joined the circle. I saw a light, and knew Billy was on his phone, probably looking up “three-legged fruit bats” – hoping to dispel another urban myth. Unperturbed, my fossil-hunting father stepped over to the fire, and picked out some chicken legs.

‘Anyone still hungry.’ He offered the cremated legs among the group.

‘Only three left.’ He glanced at Billy, who was shaking his phone, still looking for a signal.

‘I’m good’, mumbled a few of the boys in unison.

Tired bodies slumped; shoulders eased onto bedrolls. My father sat cross-legged and alert. We were his soldiers, his platoon, and he was taking first watch. I sat next to him, trying to keep my back straight.

‘Do you remember that, Jim?’

I looked up.

‘Is it Orion?’

‘Yes. Can you still find Sirius, son?’

I traced the line of Orion’s belt, like he had shown me. It was so bright; I didn’t need Orion’s help.

‘It’s almost blue, dad.’

‘I know’, he put a finger to his lips, ‘it’s changed’.

‘Blue Star Kachina.’

We startled, even though the voice was soft. His footsteps had been silent on the sand. His silvery hair shone in the firelight. Everyone sat up, waiting for him to speak.

‘This is the last sign. When the star you call Sirius turns blue, the purification begins’, he announced, and drew two fingers down each cheek.

The boys looked up; I looked him in the eyes; my father answered:

‘We’re heading down to El Paso.’

‘Celebrating another battle. My grandfather fought there. A lot of the Hopi tribe helped you down at Camp Cotton. He was put against a wall, and shot, by order of Pancho Villas himself.’

‘I’m sorry’, said my dad.

‘Not your fault, my friend’, our guest continued, ‘you need to worry about camping on a riverbed; the stars are disappearing’, he gestured with an open palm.

‘Do you mean the Kachina thing?’ I asked.

‘It means the clouds are covering the stars’, he answered.

‘He means it’s going to rain’, my dad explained.

‘It could be the Kachina’, the group gathered around him, ‘the Hopi see it as an apocalypse, the cleansing of souls. It could be water; it could be fire.’

A raindrop stained his palm. The blue star flickered, obscured by cloud. The rumbling started in the hills.

*****

My father pulled up the last of his platoon; the flash flood extinguished the fire, spreading argent rivulets across the desert.

The Hopi chief stroked a finger across his brow, and smiled – again.

Distant FireMamie Pound

Mamie Pound

The desert highway was nothing more than a stone river running through a silent night. The battered Chevrolet sped toward the rising moon.

Slow down. Turn there.” She pointed toward a trail of potholes.

No one will see us,” she said. “Looks like a good place to sleep.”

He gathered sticks and piled them in the clearing.

You hitch-hiked all the way from Baton Rouge?” he asked.

What?” she said. “No, Birmingham.”

You could’ve been murdered,” he said, breaking the brush limbs in half, dropping them into a pile.

Give me a break,” she said.

He lit the dry brush, poked it with another stick.

It went out. He cupped his hands and blew on the embers until they caught. Once the fire was going, their silhouettes danced on the canyon wall.

We could sleep in the back of the truck,” he offered.

I like it out here,” she said.

Scorpions and rattlesnakes,” he began.

I’m not scared. The Hopi say this place is sacred,” she said.

That doesn’t mean the snakes won’t bite,” he laughed.

You know, my great-grandaddy was an indian,” she said.

Hopi?” he asked.

Creek,” she said.”On my mother’s side. A white man took his daughter as his wife, burned his house. Shot him dead. My grandmother, his daughter, buried a three-legged fruit bat under the white man’s house to curse his family. ‘So they would always wander’. Unfortunately, he was also my grandfather. She was pregnant with my mother at the time.”

The fire crackled, smoke tendrils snaked toward the glowing stars. Coyotes’ barks echoed throughout the canyon.

He stared at the expanse of sky.

Why did you pick this place to camp?” He asked.

“I don’t know. Time stands still here,” her eyes found the Milky Way.

“Look at the stars,” she said, waving her arms overhead. “They’re so beautiful. And what better place to see them?”

Except that it’s a million miles from Alabama,” he laughed.

Where’s your sense of adventure? What happened to the guy I skinny-dipped with, in January, all those years ago?” she joked.

What happened to just hanging out downtown? It’s worked for a decade, “ he smirked.

“I’m different now. Something in me wants to be here, where things are real and wondrous,” she said. “Like the Hopi way of life.”

You realize that the Hopi believe that people will be sucked underground when the Kachina shows up? And you’re Southern Baptist. They probably won’t even let you on their spaceship,” he said.

I don’t care about that, or the blue star or the fifth world. I just want to slow time in this world. I want to jump naked into the Cahaba River. I want to go back,” she said. “Just for a while.”

And there she was, standing before him, the girl he’d known all those years ago, before kids and marriage and life, stars blazing in her eyes.

It had been so long.

Yeah. I get it, “ he whispered.

The light of ages past burned as if it had waited forever for this night. The desert sands stilled.

And somewhere beneath them, the earth shifted.

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The Iron Writer Challenge #162 – 2016 Spring Solstice Open, Preliminary Round, They’re Bracket

balloonfest

The Iron Writer Challenge #162

2016 Spring Solstice Open, Preliminary Round

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Brackets/Authors:

They’re Bracket

D. Lee Cox, M. D. Pitman, Richard Russell, Emmy Gatrell

The Elements:

A Sky balloon festival

Trash talk

Hot Dogs

A Bow and a single arrow

The Invasionemmy-gatrell

Emmy Gatrell

As I cut the wheel and parked, gravel sprayed the bottom step of the dilapidated cabin. It always had looked like something out of a redneck horror show and still did. The tin roof was rusty, windows had new papers and foil covering them, the porch was falling apart and had a moldy couch and rocking chairs adorning it, the entire house tilted to the left and looked like it would fall over in a stiff breeze.

“So kind of you to take the day off to help, Matt.” Luis stepped out onto the porch and let the old screen door slam behind him.

“I don’t work on Saturday’s.”

“I should have figured you wouldn’t take a day off to help your family.”

“My job is keeping this family afloat.”

“I can’t have a job because I’m the only one taking care of our mother.”

“You don’t have a job because you don’t want one.”

Luis glared, crossed his arms over his chest, and changed the subject, “I stashed the weapons but I couldn’t find her bow and arrows.”

“It’s okay. I broke almost all the arrows when she shot me in the leg last Thanksgiving. I couldn’t break the bow or the arrow; Dad made them for her.”

“Well, that’s just great,” Luis replied sarcastically.

“What damage could she possibly do with a bow and a single arrow?”

“We’re talking about our mother.”

“Point taken. We better find it.” I cringed when I saw the first multi-colored hot air balloon come into view. “Who is it this year?”

He smiled, “You’re going love it. I told you not to get her cable.”

“Matt!” My mother ran from the back the cabin screaming, her worn floral mumu flying behind her like a cape, “They’re coming!”

“No one is—” I grunted as she hit me like a linebacker.

She pushed me to the other side of the car, peeked over the hood, and pointed to the sky, “They’re invading. Coming for our jobs and women. The people on Fox News warned us this would happen.”

“Fox News is just trash talk. No one is invading, those balloons are from the hot air balloon festival in Albuquerque.”

“Liberal,” she shook her head. “How else will they get over the wall?”

“Who’s trying to get over what wall?”

“The Mexicans,” she whispered dramatically.

I managed to keep a straight face, “We’re Mexican.”

“If we were Mexican we’d be eating tacos for lunch and not hot dogs.”

I blinked a couple of times, “That might be the craziest thing you’ve ever said.”

“Now who’s trash talking?” She looked up at the sky filling with balloons and shook her head, “I need to find my bow.” Then began army crawling to the barn.

“Better follow; she still has great aim. I’ll make lunch.”

“Hot dogs again?”

He shrugged, “Yep.”

“I hate hot dogs.” He smiled and shrugged then I ran to beat Mama to the barn.

And Then One DayRichard Russell

Richard Russell

Jack slowly pulled up to the gate of the fairgrounds and handed the attendant his entry form. The attendant took the form, “Gonna be a humdinger of a balloon festival this year, bud. We’ve got more entries this year than ever before, and the weather looks to be about perfect.”

Jack kind of smirked unenthusiastically. “That’s great,” he said in a monotone mumble.

“You don’t seem to be very excited about it,” the attendant responded.

Jack sighed, “Yeah, well, it just seems like an awful lot of trouble these days.”

“Oh, I see,” mused the attendant, “Kind of depressed, are we?”

“Yeah, I guess. Maybe I ought to just go back home.”

“Yeah, maybe… but seein’ as you’re already here with your gear and all …

Tell you what; I’m just gonna waive your entry fee and let you in for free.”

Jack’s eyes widened a bit. “Seriously?”

“Just git on in there and get your gear set up. You’re running a little late…. And have a nice day!”

Jack found a space to park out in the field and began to unload his balloon. It really was a nice day. He looked around at the other balloonists as they were setting up. They all seemed to have other people with them. One team wore matching shirts and hats; another couple argued over something; others with picnic lunches set out looked to simply enjoy the day. Suddenly feeling hungry, Jack wandered over to the kiosk.

A woman in the window chirped, “What’ll it be?”  

Jack nonchalantly replied, “Gimme a cheese burger.”

The woman pressed, “Is that all? Just a cheese burger?   You want fries? … a drink?”

Jack rolled his eyes and, for the first time, he really looked at her. She was quite attractive. “Uh ….. sure. Why not?”

She smiled, “Okay then. You entered in the balloon festival?”

“Yeah, that’s me over there with the green pick-up. I guess I’d better get set up; looks like I’m a little behind schedule.”

Handing him his food, the woman said, “I’m Sue… and you are…?”

“Jack.”

“Nice to meet you, Jack.”

Fifteen minutes later, Jack was hurrying to get his balloon set up when Sue came over.  

“You’d better hurry up,” she fretted.   “Can I lend you a hand?”

A little surprised, Jack responded, “I could use all the help I can get.”

The two worked seamlessly together as if they had been together their whole lives.

Just as all the balloons were taking off, the “hot dogs” with the matching shirts hollered, “Where’d you get that old wicker relic, dude? You inherit that from your grandmother?”

Sue hollered back, “Shut yer pie-hole, dork!”

Then she climbed into the basket with Jack, “Let’s show ’em how it’s done.”

When they were well under way, Jack had a moment to relax. As he watched Sue look out over the countryside, Cupid drew his bow and pierced Jack’s heart with a single, well-placed arrow.

Vengeance is the Judge’sMichael Pitman

M. D. Pitman

Bruce and Peter were the best hot air balloon pilots in the country. But the one-time best friends are now rivals and the Mid-Town Hot Air Balloon Festival and Challenge is the most competitive in the country. Peter’s won it five straight times… until last year. Bruce’s prank opened the door for him to win, and a repeat would guarantee his place in the Ballooning Hall of Fame.

But Peter won’t let Bruce pull another prank. His basket still reeks of hot dogs and spotted with ketchup and mustard stains. 

Bruce strolled by Peter’s balloon, which this year is stitched with Robin Hood drawing an arrow with a bow. With a mouth full of a hot dog, Bruce loudly muffled, “Want a bite?” He held up a half-eaten foot-long dog, oozing ketchup and mustard onto his fingers. A few drops splashed onto a dirt spot in the patchy grass field.

“Jerk,” Peter whispered, glaring at the black-haired doughy man who couldn’t keep food in his mouth as he bellowed.

Peter stifled that laughter when he pulled out a bow.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “Purely for show.” Peter was unconvincing. He smiled as he pulled out a quiver of arrows. He slung both over a shoulder.

Bruce stared slack-jawed at Peter who pantomimed drawing a bow toward his balloon. The now pale-faced man scurried to his balloon three spots away. 

Bruce called on who appeared to be a judge. The ensuing conversation didn’t look friendly. Shaking his head, the judge walked over toward Peter.

A couple steps away the judge cocked his head with a funny look on his face as he smelled the air. “Is that stale hot dog?”

Peter grimaced at the memory. “Yes … it is.” He exhaled a defeated sigh. “That guy you were talking to filled my basket last year with hot dogs.”

“I remember that,” the judge said with a smile, which vanished as Peter glared. “Was wondering who did that. Figures it was Bruce.”

Peter flashed a quizzical glance. “You know Bruce, um…”

“Johnny. We go a ways back.” He closed his eyes appearing to reflect on a memory. “If I wasn’t a Christian man, I’d have a few choice words. Calling him a jerk is an understatement.”

“And you’re a judge?”

“Not for the challenge. For the balloon glow tonight.”

Johnny began to walk away but paused and turned. He walked close and whispered, “You know if you do decide to shoot fire off an arrow, I’ll ditch the evidence.” He winked.

Peter gave it a hard thought. “Tempting, but I better pass.”

“Well, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed if something does happen. Right?”

“It wouldn’t hurt my feelings.” Peter laughed at the sarcastic gesture. “Karma and all.”

The next morning as Bruce unpacked his balloon to inflate it for the challenge, Peter saw him flail his arms and heard barely audible screams. They were not words children and church-goers should hear. He then saw two raccoons escape through one of the balloon’s several holes.

At the judge’s tent 20 feet away, one of Johnny’s hands was heavily bandaged. Peter caught his eye. He winked and smiled.

Momma Wants a Balloon

Lee Cox

D. Lee Cox

Patricia Kreis was getting on in years. Her long auburn locks had given way to gray and white, yet she still held it back with a tortoise shell headband sporting blue hydrangeas.

She sat at a cherry meeting table, picking at her Sneaky Pete’s slaw dog. She wore a peace sign button over one breast covered in a faded Pepsi tee-shirt.

Boyd Maynard, a thirty-something trust manager, sat in his office just off the meeting room. A hand on his brow, a thin waft of strawberry blonde hair barely cutting the shine from his pate.

“Becky, I cant do this. I didnt go to Dartmouth to deal with witches like this. Cant you just tell her I’m out of the office?”
“Mr. Maynard, that’s just unprofessional. In fact, I’m pretty sure she saw you run behind my cubicle when you saw her come in.”

“BOYD! Momma wants a BALLOON! Get in here!”

Becky smiled. “You heard her – Momma awaits!”

Maynard flung himself forward, gathered up manila folders, and shuffled into the conference room.

“Good afternoon, Ms. Kreis. How can I hel….”

“Boyd, I need a balloon. A big ass balloon. One of them balloons what sails the skies with pretty colors and a helluva fire underneath. I’m entering the balloon race next month.”

“The All-State Regional Championship?”

“Thats the one, by jiminy!”

“Ms. Kreis…”
“Son, I have a mighty hefty portfolio there. If you wish to continue managing this account, you’ll call me ‘Momma Pat’.”

Maynard pursed his lips. Let out a breath.

“Momma Pat, you’re eighty nine years old…”

“Eighty seven.”

“You were born in 1927.”

“Twenty nine, it was a typo”

A long sigh.

“Ma’am, you cant possibly learn to pilot a hot-air balloon by mid-July. My grandfather is in that race and he’s been flying for decades.”

“I know. That’s why I’m entering the race.”

“I… I beg your pardon?”

“Your grandpa, he stood me up for the bingo last week. He’s a lyin’, no-good, sumbitch and I intend to beat his ass at the balloon race.”

“Ma’am, my grandfather has won hundreds of hot air balloon races. You cant possibly think you’d beat him…”

“I can, and I will. Now you just cut me a check for two-hundred fifty thousand dollars.”

“You want $250 thousand dollars for what?”

“I’m buyin a balloon and I’m staking Terrell Sturdivent to pilot it.”

“Terrell Sturdivent? I thought he was dead.”

“No. Not dead. Drunk? Yes. Dead? No. But I’ll have him sobered up and ready to whoop your grandpas wrinkly old ass next month!”

“Ma’am, I cant possibly condone the use of your money like this. This is an enormous amount for shear folly.”

“Son, you will cut me that check, and you will cut it immediately. I will be there in my own fancy balloon when they shoot that flamin’ arrow to start the race or you, sir, will be in a strip mall doin taxes for free for a livin’.”

“Ma’am…”

“NOW SON!”

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