H.P. Lovecraft Bracket

The Iron Writer

2014 Spring Equinox Open

H.P. Lovecraft Bracket


H. P. Lovecraft

Patricia Marshall

Tannis Laidlaw

M.D. Pitman

Laura Roberts

The Elements:

A Bridge on the edge of a cliff


A kitchen apron

Fruit scented lotion

Your favorite karaoke song

Please Vote for your favorite story!

The Poll is below

Channeling TravelPat Marshall

Pat Marshall

I hate travelogues.

You know what they are, right?  My Aunt Edna (really her name…what a bummer, huh?) used to drag me to them all the time when I was in junior high.  Stupid shows that lasted for an hour narrated by old men with voices as mechanical as the desolate click-whirr of their Kodak Ectagraphic slide projectors.

That was in the days before data projectors and PowerPoint, when people still put on kitchen aprons to cook dinner.  My Aunt Edna has one that is beyond ugly, and she wore it until the fabric was so fragile she couldn’t repair it anymore.  Even then, she just folded it up and put it in her hope chest.

What’s that about?  She was eighty-three on March 27th and smells like fruit-scented lotion.   What’s she hoping for?  And even if she is hoping for something, who’s going to want to see her in a seriously threadbare kitchen apron embroidered with lopsided tulips and bunnies that look more like ferrets?

But here she is with me, beaming at the Sunrise Rotary Club, listening to exchange students describe their year of living elsewhere.  I’m last, which means sitting through the other four, knowing I’m going to suck and that my trip was boring.

Seriously, you know?  Look at this guy’s presentation.  He’s got a picture of some eight-inch wooden walkway snaking its way up the side of a sheer cliff.  And it’s in China. The “Most Dangerous Trail in the World.”  The most dangerous thing that happened to me was eating an animal I once considered a pet.

If my folks had lived, I wouldn’t have had to live with Aunt Edna.  I wouldn’t have had to spend my junior year outside the United States, hoping for a family emergency to pull me back home.

I don’t really mean that.  The last family emergency ended with my mom and dad dying on the way to the hospital while I was at my eighth grade Sadie Hawkins dance trying to figure out a way to avoid singing “Don’t Stop Believing” for the karaoke contest.  It wasn’t that I hated the song or anything; I just didn’t want to sing it in front of people.  I used to sing it with Mom when she’d take me to school and we’d jam out to the oldies station.  Her music was pretty cool.

So I’m stuck here wondering why very un-cool Aunt Edna pushed me to do the foreign exchange thing.  Maybe she just needed some space; maybe she thought I needed some space.  Maybe it was in Mom and Dad’s will.  Who knows?   Maybe she just gets off on travelogues.

Me?  I’m done with going places.  It doesn’t make any sense to meet a bunch of people only to have to say goodbye to them after a few months, make-believing you’ll write or pretending you care about documenting where you’ve been or Aunt Edna says you have to say thank-you for the opportunity.

Like I said…I hate travelogues.

The Bridge to Nowhere:

(A tribute to Nancy and Fred Bettjeman)

Tannis Laidlaw

tannis laidlaw

(Author’s note: a tramper is a hiker; Mangapurua is pronounced Manga-pur-ROO-ah)

One hundred years ago,

Fred, an ANZAC soldier

from New Zealand,

fought the Boche.

Wounded at Gallipoli,

married his

Scottish nurse,

(the lovely Nancy),

two years later.

Invalided back

Fred applied for land,

awarded a backblock lot,

land a grateful nation

– or so they claimed –


their returned servicemen.

(Can actual farms

be made

from scrappy land?


Let these eager,




have a go.)

Fred found his plot,


to fell a tree

to erect his tent,

so dense was the bush.

His Nancy,

clever, skilful,


by river and horseback,

babe in arms,

ready to take on this

wilderness this

husband this




to all in the valley,

needed, wanted, respected

busy busy busy.





busy busy also,

an almost hero.

Tannis 1

One mud road, one rickety bridge

clinging to the edge of cliffs,

numerous kids;

Fred campaigned for

a school,

a proper road,

a fitting bridge,

of concrete and iron.



the hills were too steep

the soldiers naïve,


in floods, erosion,

and with the depression,

the government


increasingly reluctant.

A final enormous storm

sweeping away

all they’d made.

What remained

was the concrete and iron

useless bridge.

Nancy left as she came,

by horse then river;

Fred stayed,


to fight for his farm.

Not successfully.

The government had

bigger things


(Let the farms revert


They’ve had a go.


Tannis 2

They found a new farm

surrounded by civilisation

the heart of the nation,


leaving Fred’s heart

as cold

as the Whanganui’s flow


keeping him busy.


no longer the medical expert

for an entire society,

no longer required,


I was young

when I read Fred’s story

of pioneering

in the Mangapurua valley.

He’d taken me

to a bygone time.

…then I learned

he was still alive…

Fred talked to me

of Nancy,

the valley, the high trees,

the verdant earth, the rushing waters,

the children, his farm,

the bridge a hundred feet

above the river,

his house of

pit-sawn timber.

Tannis 3

But I came late

into Fred’s life.

His death soon after, 1987,

so long ago.

I decided

to remove

my kitchen apron,


my hiking boots

and head for the hills


(in memory

of Fred and Nancy),

‘It’s a long way to


(like Tip-pe-Rar-y

only far more secluded).

He’d almost survived

’til the 103rd birthday party

I’d organised

for him.

He never smelled

the lemon-scented cream

I’d made for his

old soldier’s, old farmer’s feet

as gnarled as the

Pohutakawa trees

he could see out his window.

He never saw my photos

the primeval

tree-ferns, tea-tree, native

Nikau palms

that engulfed his farm

in the forty years

since he’d been forced

to leave.

I’d found no sign

of the school

paddocks, fields,

nothing of

farmers, their wives,

the pioneering life,


one rusted plough and

the bridge…concrete and iron.

I celebrated the centenary

of Fred’s Gallipoli

this year

by taking

The Great Walk

to the Whanganui,

the Mangapurua valley,


The bridge is still there

known for seventy years as

‘The Bridge to Nowhere’,

a tramper’s destination,

its presence a fascination.

At least that.

Tannis 4

Reference: http://www.doc.govt.nz/conservation/historic/by-region/manawatu-whanganui/bridge-to-nowhere/history/

The Job: Part 1Michael Pitman

M.D. Pitman

I walk toward the main entrance of the Dinsmore & Shohl building in downtown Cincinnati, constantly scanning for exit routes. Foot traffic seems busier going west on Fifth Street than going east. An alley across the street cuts north toward Sixth Street.

It’s ten in the morning and the lobby is bustling. People congregate around the Starbucks kiosk. Not to raise suspicion, I stand about five feet from the counter as if I’m contemplating the menu board. I hum “Black Velvet” as I survey the employees. One barista, a chubby black man, takes and starts orders. A second barista, a skinny white woman, finishes up and serves the drinks.

A third barista, a slender Asian woman, clears and wipes the table next to me. “Pardon me, sir,” she said in a heavy Japanese accent. She bows three times before moving to the next table. The smell of cherry blossom lotion hung thick in the air.

“You’re fine.” I smiled as I noticed her logo-less black apron blended in with her all black clothing.

I walk around the lobby, studying the activity. A security guard approaches so I punch a few buttons on my phone and put it to my ear. “Seriously, Thomas Lamkin’s photo is hanging in the Dinsmore lobby.” I continue the one-sided conversation until he leaves. I spy three employees sitting at a table by the Starbucks kiosk, one with an ID badge loosely attached to a bag. I sit down and after a few minutes reach behind me as I continue my faux conversation. I slide the badge from the bag and slide it in my jacket pocket. I move the same hand up toward my face to check my watch.

“Damn. I’m going to be late,” I say as theater for my audience at the adjacent table. I place my phone in my pocket.

I slide the badge over the electronic turnstile and head to the elevator lobby. On my approach, one elevator door opens and I step inside and press the number seven, which is below the top floor. When I reach the seventh floor, I make my way to the stairwell. I climb the stairs toward the roof access.

The door is open. I ease my Glock from the holster in the small of my back. I pull back the slide and guide it forward so it won’t make a noise. I hold the weapon high in my right hand and look down the barrel. Before I push open the door, I catch the faint aroma of cherry blossom lotion. I pause. I hear a barely audible crunch of gravel. I burst through and point my weapon toward the noise and into the face of the Asian barista. She’s pointing a silver Beretta at me.

“I’m just here to scout a location.” My heart pounds.

“Target?” she demands.

“That’s confidential, um, ma’am.”

“Yuriko. And I don’t care. You’re not getting my hit.”

“It’s unlikely.” I wasn’t sure but it sounded good.

She glares suspiciously. “Which building?”

“Behind me. The insurance company. You?”

She nods her head back. “CPA building.”

We slowly lower our weapons. “I’m Hugo. Hugo Costello.”

Cutthroat Kitchen NightmaresLauraRoberts-350

Laura Roberts

The rickety bridge was no place for a duel, which was exactly why Chelsea had chosen it as the site of her cooking throwdown against Deena Paul. The obese celebrity chef would never make it across the canyon, and Chelsea would win the challenge by default. She could see it all now: Deena dangling helplessly from the rope ladder just before the last shoddy strand snapped, conveniently disposing of her nemesis somewhere in the swirling river rapids below.

Strapping on a crisp white apron, Chelsea savored the sweet smell of success along with the huckleberry lotion she’d just finished applying to her dishwater-chapped hands. It was the perfect crime. Now all she had to do was wait.

“Yoo-hoo! Chelsea, honey, are y’all here?” Deena’s voice rang from somewhere beyond the hot lights of the hastily constructed kitchen set.

Chelsea stopped mid-chop on the shallots for her mis-en-place and whirled around to find Deena trundling towards her across the now completely reinforced bridge.

“But… but… that’s impossible!” she blurted. Instead of a dangerously decrepit rope bridge hung precariously across the canyon, Chelsea saw a solid reddish-brown structure supporting Deena’s clogged feet. Odder still, the bridge appeared to be dripping with an unidentified fluid that smelled vaguely of vanilla.

“Nothing’s impossible with a little butter and sugar, darlin’,” Deena drawled. “My signature red velvet cupcakes are dense enough to support the weight of a thousand crazed fans, especially when spackled together with plenty of cream cheese frosting.”

Chelsea wanted to scream, but instead she silently fumed as the unflappable TV chef waddled into the kitchen next to her and began setting up shop. Inside her head, the opening bars of AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds (Done Dirt Cheap)” began to blare as she pictured her enemy vanquished with cyanide, TNT and live wires.

“Your apron, Ms. Paul.” Chelsea watched as an intern helped Deena into a homespun checkerboard garment that further accentuated her full figure.

“Chefs, are you ready?” the bespectacled moderator asked both women.

“You’re going down, Deena,” Chelsea growled.

“May the best chef win,” Deena replied with a wink.

“You have 30 minutes to create your best dish. Go!”

The two women spun into action, chopping and dicing as the competition commenced. The air began to fill with the scent of oils warming and spices toasting in pans, while the sound of clanging pots, clattering spoons, gas jets firing, and the occasional whizz of a blender created a kitchen cacophony as the chefs poured their hearts and souls into their creations. The production crew watched anxiously from their posts behind bright lights and heavy cameras as sharpened knives flew through the air, along with a few barbed words.

Finally the moderator shouted “Knives down!”

“You’re going to love this dish, Deena,” Chelsea announced. “Here, try a bite.”

“Don’t mind if I do,” Deena said, opening wide. She chewed thoughtfully, savoring the unusual flavors.

“What’s it called?” she inquired, just before she slumped to the floor, clutching her throat.

“Death by Chocolate.”


Challenge 58 – The Iron Writer Spring Equinox Preliminary Round

The Iron Writer Spring Equinox Open Preliminary Round

Challenge 58

The Spring Open is a quarterly challenge consisting of champions of the twelve previous challenges plus four additional authors who popular vote totals merits an invitation. The sixteen writers will be bracketed. The champion of each bracket will participate in the Spring Open final round on April 17th.

The Brackets:

H. P Lovecraft

Anne Bronte

Mark Twain

Ursula Le Guin

The Elements:


A Kitchen Apron

Fruit Scented Lotion

Your favorite Karaoke song

The Authors:

John Cosgrove, Laura Roberts, Lee Cox, Patricia Marshall, K. A. DaVur, Brick Marlin, Jordan Bell,

Wende Whitus, Mamie Pound, Eric Garrison, Danielle Lee Zwissler, Violet Patterson, Tannis Laidlaw,

M. D. Pitman, Lindsey Cooperider, Jennifer Smythe


Challenge 53

The Iron Writer Challenge #53

The Authors:

Kaylee Hamelink, Laura Roberts, Mamie Pound, Tannis Laidlaw

The Elements:


The Rotarua Hot Pools

The only lost book in the world

A pearl brooch

Floor wax

Please vote for your favorite story.

The Poll is after the stories. 



Library AdventureKaylee Hamelink

Kaylee Hamelink

As I walked in I could smell the lemony floor wax from last night’s waxing. The library was extremely crowded for a 4 floor building. Most of the time I was the only one here, besides the staff, whom I rarely saw. It was days like this one that I wanted more than anything to climb into my book and escape this crazy world.

Every day when I come here, I feel more at home than I do at my actual house. You would think it would be lonely or scary being all alone in a huge, empty library but every day I make a new friend. I’m surrounded by friends that will always be there for me on any occasion.

Today, I feel all alone. All the screaming kids make me wish I was actually alone. Clearly my usual spot will not work. I decide to walk around to find the perfect spot.

I rounded the corner to find kids, if you wanted to call them that, crawling all over the castle that separated the kid’s room from the rest of the library. Honestly, the castle made it look more like a playground anyways.

The second floor was no better. Teenagers had made this their make-out central. That was the last think I wanted to hear! Hormonal teenagers are only a small step up from those little screaming things down stairs.

Finally, I decided to forget all this nonsense and go all the way to the top floor. No adults wanted to go up there, it was all archives and legal books, plus the elevator didn’t go that far. Best of all though was there were no kids allowed!

As I topped the stairs a raspy voice echoed “Logan, you are the one chosen to save the book from destruction” from a tall stack of paper that had fallen out of multiple books long ago. A light shone from the stack near the bottom. Curiosity has gotten the best of me so I moved the top papers to see where the mysterious light and voice were coming from.

As I reach the final sheet a golden orange light illuminates the room. I stare at the paper and suddenly a picture appears that shimmers like a moon lit lake. It was a picture of an ancient looking book. In the caption below it read, “The last lost book, said to hold the secrets to all mankind’s problems.”

I’ve never heard of such a book and me of all people should have, I mean I practically live in the library. I proceed to stare at the picture and notice that the picture changes if it is moved ever so slightly. One second I’m looking at a picture of the book next I’m looking and beautiful pearl brooch appears. I’m in awe! At this time I turn the page over to see the beautifully steamy Rotarura hot pools. As I stare deeply into the picture I feel myself being pulled into it.

I guess I’ll figure out more about these strange things and I’ll actually have to leave the library.

On AssignmentLauraRoberts-350

Laura Roberts

The guidebook promised me fascinating Māori culture. It insisted “no visit to New Zealand would be complete without stopping here.” So stop I did, at the behest of my latest employer – a promotional magazine from New Zealand.

I had fallen for the Rotarua Hot Pools hype, like a drunken monkey slipping on a banana peel. Unfortunately, I also managed to crack my skull on the hotel’s freshly waxed floors as I dashed, in my complimentary flip-flops, towards my first dip in the geothermal wonder.

In my hospital haze, I dreamt of a book that uncovered the secrets of the Te Arawa people who had settled the land. It described in detail their customs, explaining their intricate facial tattoos and the stories behind their tribal dances. A haunting melody followed me as I listened to scholars debate the book’s authenticity, then place it in a glass tomb on display in some dusty library basement, where it would be forever lost to their modern ancestors. One of them tried to placate me with expensive jewelry, offering a pearl brooch and a handful of glittering rubies to pacify my resistance.

I woke up shouting something about the world’s only lost book, and four nurses arrived to sedate me. “You’ve bumped your head. Something’s been shaken loose,” one of them murmured as I drifted back into uncomfortable sleep.

When I awoke a second time, I found a visitor waiting patiently at my bedside. It was my husband, looking appropriately concerned.

“Are you all right?” he asked. “They told me you were raving.”

I smiled sheepishly. “It must have been the morphine. I dreamt about a lost manuscript, something about the local people and their culture. Do you recognize this tune?”

I hummed a few bars from the melody that had played repeatedly in my mind throughout the night.

He raised one eyebrow, then the other. “That sounds like the ‘E Karanga e te Iwi e.’ It’s a song of welcome for warriors. Who were you fighting, my love?”

“Historians, I suppose. Museum archivists, shelving living culture away as if it is already dead and buried, entombing our past as if we don’t perpetually live through the same cycles.”

“Did you enjoy the hot springs, at least?”

“Whenever you can bust me out of this joint, I’d like to. I’ve still got two more days of my junket left, don’t I?”

“Absolutely. The doctor says you’re free to go if you’re feeling better, but you’ll have to come back in a week for a checkup.”

“Did he say anything about keeping these slip-proof socks?” I asked, wiggling my toes out from under my hospital sheets.

“No, but under the circumstances, I doubt they’d blame you. Hey, where’d you get this?”

He held up a single pearl earring, which had lain on my nightstand.

“Must have been the previous occupant,” I shrugged.

The warrior melody rose up again as I swung my legs over the side of the bed, ready to return to civilian life. 

The Box UpstairsMamie Pound

Mamie Pound

He hears his mother waxing floors. Cleaning is one of her obsessions now. Just hours before Bridge Club, she squirts wax across the first floor. The machine whirrs. She moves it back and forth across the front hall. So effortless, she smokes with the other hand at the same time. The whole place smells like Marlboros and Mop and Glo.

Her other obsession is to find “the only lost book in the world”, her wedding album. She swears it was in the house after they moved there in 1979. Every few months, she tears the house apart looking for his Dad; on high bookshelves, in trunks beneath wads of old Christmas lights… in other photographs..

Last time she couldn’t find it, she wouldn’t eat for two days.

His Dad once said, “Geologic wonders only make themselves known when they’re good and ready. They can stay hidden for years.” He wants to tell his mom this, wants to make it okay.

On the 13” television in the basement, National Geographic is in New Zealand. A man stands beside the electric green Hot Pool and explains, “Many an explorer lost his life here.”


 “Billy?” Mom calls from the top of the stairs.

“Hang on.” Billy says.


“For centuries, natives tossed precious rubies and pearls into these pots for safe keeping. They thought they’d retrieve them in their next life. Early civilizations thought geologic formations were links to the afterlife.” The reporter looked right into the camera. “A devastating earthquake emptied these pots 50 years ago, opening them to anthropologists and treasure seekers. Then, almost as if their presence was sensed by some other-world spirit, they filled again without warning. One American explorer lost his life.” The man’s face was grim. The camera panned the pots.


“Billy!” Mom called.

“Coming Mom.” He turns off the television and runs upstairs.


In the front room, everything is Bridge Club perfect; two tables with four chairs, each holding two stacks of cards and a small bowl of curried pecans. His mother wears her party clothes. A sparkling pearl brooch catches the light, a tiny cauldron of memories pinned to her pink sweater.

“Where’d you get that brooch, Mom?” he asked, wrapping the cord around the handle.

“Your father got it for me.” She perfected her hair in the hall mirror, a gold leaf oval that no one ever looked into unless they were leaving the house or others were coming in.

“In New Zealand?” he asked.

“Yes, you know that.” She smoothed her skirt.

“Mom?” he began.

“Billy, here comes Mrs. Henderson…”

“Dad was on television again.” He said, and watched her compose herself before turning around.

“Billy, your father’s been dead for three years now.” She adjusted the drapery.

“Mom, think you’ll ever find the “only lost book in the world?” He watched her stare at something he could not see.

“One day,” she said.

She pictured the exact box in the attic where the wedding album lay wrapped in his clothes, the last ones he ever wore; the same ones that came with the little brooch and a telegram. The very one she refused to find. 

The Black Buchannanstannis laidlaw

Tannis Laidlaw

‘Once-upon-a-time a book was written on the Buchannan family history but we can find no trace of it,’  Claire’s client said in a resonant Scottish burr. ‘We figure it must be the only completely lost book in the world.’

‘No copies?’

‘None,’ the handsome young man said. ‘Dad thinks my Sassenach great-grandmother had them all destroyed.’

‘So I’m to write—?’

‘A family history.’ He handed her a wooden box. ‘Documents and photographs.’ He then extracted a jewellery box from his pocket within which sat an ornate brooch. ‘I’d like you to discover why we’re known as the Black Buchannans. Tradition says this kilt-pin holds the secret.’

Claire touched it, a stylised hook smoothly carved in ivory or bone, outlined in seed pearls, fixed to a heavy silver clasp. She smiled at her client. ‘Is the brooch in any family photos, Mr Buchannan?’

‘A couple.’ He located a curled photograph from the box. ‘This was taken in 1944. My grandfather is the boy in the kilt; the RAF pilot is my great-grandfather and my great-great-grandfather, the old man, was a much decorated soldier in the First War. Lots of heroes in the family,’ he said with quiet pride.

Claire noted the strong family resemblance down the generations: the Buchannans were all imposing and broad shouldered, the epitome of “tall, dark and handsome”.

‘Strong genetics,’ she commented.

‘My father thinks we’re the Black Buchannans because of some dastardly deed long in the past. My grandfather thought we were black-hearted soldiers, ruthless, but effective. We’re certainly unlike the main branch of the family, scrawny pen-pushers, the lot of them.’ He shrugged. ‘One of your tasks is to discover why we’ve had such advantages.’

After he’d left, Claire sorted everything, piece by piece, in chronological order. Lots to write about.

Some weeks later as she replaced the documents and photographs into the box, she noticed a scrap of white under the box’s lining. She extracted a sepia-toned photograph labelled, “Wikitoria TeHana, Rotorua, 1878”. Claire could see the beautiful young woman’s Maori ancestry in her strong Polynesian bone structure. She’d been posed sitting on the highly-waxed floor of a cabana with steam artistically swirling about and her bare feet splashing in one of the Rotorua hot pools. With her magnifying glass, Claire peered closer at Wikitoria. Was that the same bone carving on a cord around her neck?

Claire went back to the oldest full-sized photo. On the back she read, “The Rev. Walter and wif—” with “Roto—” below. The reverend was undersized, pallid and puny-looking, formally dressed for, presumably, his wedding. The pendant was now a brooch, the impressive bone and pearl kilt-pin Claire had been shown. He had proudly posed with a possessive hand on the shoulder of his new wife but the image of her face had been since torn away.

Claire suddenly realised the mystery was solved. She stared into the good reverend’s pale eyes, imagining him foretelling the darkly handsome Buchannans he was about to father with this Maori warrior-princess, offspring who would be tall, broad-shouldered and vigorous. The revitalisation of the Buchannan line.

Claire punched the air. Yes!