The Iron Writer Challenge #179 – 2016 Annual Championship

The Iron Writer Challenge #179

2016 Summer Solstice Challenge Championship

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Authors:

Alis Van Doorn, Mamie Pound, Dani J. Caile, Daniel J. Sanz, Tina Biscuit

The Elements:

Halloween Night

Apostrophe as an literary device

An orchard (you must state the type of orchard: apple, pear, peach, etc)

Metal doors on a school building

DuskMamie Pound

Mamie Pound

The invitation was hand written and wax sealed, slid under her door.

            “The pleasure of your company is requested.”

                               Halloween Night           

The directions led her down a twisting, wet trail, along the thick of the bayou. A late hurricane near the Keys bewitched the air, sent her hair flying all around, like one of the long-dead apparitions that appeared in the windows of the ruined hotels.

Tupelo Trees, standing knee-deep in in the brackish water, looked like skirted, gnarled, old women, sprouted from the underworld.

And the behemoth, orange moon seemed complicit.

Chills danced along her spine. A dark forboding tinged her every thought.

But just as all seemed lost, she spotted a small cabin at the edge of the water.

She knocked on its metal doors.

No one answered.

She drew her velvet cape closer and knocked again.

“Who’s there?” Said a voice, low and smokey.

Instead of answering, she shuddered, imagining the beasts swimming under the dock,

and banged again. The sound reverberated past her, into the wading trees, who swallowed it and zippered shut.

And now stood silent, watching and waiting.

The door slid open. Before her was a man with the blackest eyes she’d ever seen. Darker than the depths of the Mississippi.

“Hello.”

His accent reminded her of the dock traders and the bearded pirates that sailed into the harbor, their tongues, a music of French and Cajun.

His teeth were brilliant, white and pointy. And while his smile was wide, his eyes were solemn, arresting.

She couldn’t find her voice.

Behind him, three other men sat at a table, holding cards. A haze of blue smoke hung above their heads.

She blushed.

“Most people say ‘trick or treat’,” he said.

“I must be lost,” she stammered.

His house was dark, only a blazing fire in the hearth and candles, even at the card table.

“I must be at the wrong house. Are you…?”.

His dark beauty,…she was unable to look away.

“Leopold Lessinger.”

There was a razor nick just under his jawline, so beautifully placed, it almost seemed purposeful.

He raised a hand to cover it.

“Maybe I’ve made a mistake,” she said.

Electricity crawled across the sky, silhouetting the orchard of Spanish Moss hanging from the Cypress. Thunder rattled the glass.

“You got my invitation?” he asked.

“So it was you?” she said.

“I’ve been watching you for so long. I can’t believe you’re actually here.”

“Watching me?” She felt faint.

“I meant waiting for you…” he whispered and kissed her hand.

And she found herself unable to think of much of anything, except his beautiful mouth. She wanted to draw closer to this complete stranger. Wanted to inhale him.

Her mind raced with fear and an insatiable hunger, unknown to her before now.

“Oh, blackest night, what trickery have you played? What spell must have you allowed the moon, that I hunger for this madness, surrender to its will?”

Without any other word, he slipped his hand behind her neck.

And she did not try to stop him.

In the darkness, a Screech Owl’s desperate cry echoed across the water, disappeared into the night.

Little HyenasDaniel J. Sanz

Daniel J. Sanz

It was Monday morning and Conrad Brown’s fingers were already bleeding. He grimaced and clutched the ratty sponge in one hand and a can of mineral spirits in the other. His knees ached from the tile but the obscenity of the black marker had about scrubbed away.

He straightened under the protest of cascading crackles in his spine and wrapped a towel around his wrinkled fingers.

“Brats.”

His voice echoed between the lockers of the school hallway. He relished the graffiti free-wall while he could. Any moment these halls would be a stampede of self-entitled, ungrateful larvae and he could foresee himself scrubbing the wall again before the day’s end.

Flinging the towel into the trash, he gave the receptacle a satisfying kick before shuffling back to his custodial cart.

Pushing it past the scribblings of ghosts and jack-o-lanterns that adorned the walls, he stopped to pick up a black and orange streamer that had freed itself from its scotch-taped binding. He cracked a frown realizing today they would be dressed up as the little monsters they were, on a sugar high.

Conrad looked ahead to a giant cartoon mural sprawled across the yellow bricked wall. “Arlington Park Little Hyenas” arched overhead the titular mascot, adorned in a cowboy hat and a beaming grin.

“Oh how you mock me!”

Conrad glared at his imaginary adversary. “How you laugh at me! Judge me! Watch me waste away into this servitude!”

He used to love that hyena, years back when he bounced around these halls, but now he couldn’t stand its sight. It reminded him of a fonder time in which afternoons were spent riding bikes, playing stickball, and picking apples from Montgomery’s Orchard.

Conrad scoffed at the memory. “The only apples kids appreciate these days are made of plastic and glass.”

He leered at the hyena.

“I’ve had enough, I’m done!”

He looked down the hallway towards the exit.

“Why do I stay here? I should have quit a long time ago!”

He drew in a deep breath. All he had to do was walk through those doors and he was free.

But it was too late. They kicked open against their metal frames and the thunderous boom rolled over him chased by the hollers of the incoming hoard.

A flock of waist-high goblins, trolls, and witches flooded in, reeking of insubordination and Butterfingers. He closed his eyes and waited for them to pass. His only solace was the thought of freedom as he exited that door and ignored the sea of candy wrappers that was surely waiting for him.

Suddenly he felt a small tug on his arm. He glanced down and a little ladybug stood before him. A hyena-like smile spread across her red painted face. She held a box of mini cupcakes. Orange frosting with black sprinkles.

“Happy Halloween Mr. Brown!” She handed him one of the cakes and scrambled off.

The bell rang and the halls fell quiet. Conrad stood there, staring at the cupcake. He looked back at the mural and sighed.

“Well what’s the hurry?” he asked, crouching down to pick up a candy wrapper.

A Story of O

Tina Biscuit 

O bountiful orchard, flourishing well. We furrowed your rows, in days that have gone. We planted your seeds, and built three strong walls; the gates of the school completed the square. Now, they are rusted, remember their squeal. The burgeoning children, who poured out to play, they tended your whips, and nurtured your heart. The whips spread out branches, a new ring each year – so did the children, absorbing the light. They played in soft snow, which melted to blossom. They knocked off your buds, with frolics of summer. Soon came the autumn, you offered them fruit. Before apples fell, was Halloween time. First it was strange, you thought it was dark; faces were painted, so frightful, yet fun. Your halcyon days had barely begun. O orchard, you were so young. 

The river was filling, the reservoir full. The clouds were so black, obscuring the sky. The lightning discharged, forks tearing through gloom. Your fibrous roots trembled; the rumbling began: your trees were predicting, the deluge to come. The riverbanks burst, collapsing the church, torrential cascades tumbling through town. Houses were spilled, as though they were toys. We thought of the children, marooned in their class. Helpless we watched, and prayed for their lives: twelve children perished; twelve spirits lost. 

We buried small caskets, in your tender care. You were our last hope, which wasn’t enough. We left you as pasture, for travellers’ succour. We still come to visit, the graves of the past; we still bring you flowers, to show that we care. They brighten the spot, where nothing else thrives. Your walls are entwined, with ivy and moss. Our bodies are old; the trail is so long. 

O orchard, we miss them, on this hallowed night. We feel the dead rising, no longer with scorn. Those twelve, tiny mounds, rustling with leaves: the quilts you provided, keeping them snug. Their bones are so heavy; they struggle to run. They dreep from your branches, their cold fingers warm. Halloween songs purge water from lungs; cries become laughter, and pain becomes sun. They dance through your avenues, spreading joy as they go. Children cavorting, under canopies green, reclaiming memories, they laugh at the moon. The metal doors drum, as they bang them for fun. The teachers are gone now, and so is their school. Of course they don’t know that; we’re sure you won’t tell. Give them their night, to play in your boughs; shelter their innocence, and don’t tell a soul. 

The peduncle snaps; your last apple falls: no longer forbidden, forever unpicked.

Hell, Yeah!Dani-J-Caile

Dani J Caile

Me and the gang were having a good ol’ get together for Halloween night, just like when we were young. Tom couldn’t make it, he was on duty at the Police station, tonight of all nights, but Arthur, Dave, Andy and Josh filled the living room with their noisy, rowdy behaviour. Except Josh. He’d taken a seat by the window and stared out at the night sky, looking forlorn. Thankfully, there were no plans to revisit any apple bobbing like we did back in ’99 after stealing a basketful from Mr. Wilson’s apple orchard down on Church street, but we were going Trick-or-Treating.

“Eh, Bob! I’ve got your costume here!” said Andy, throwing a Wonder Woman top into my face as I entered from the kitchen. Arthur and Dave had already chosen theirs; Batman and Robin, respectively. Andy was Superman, of course.

“Why do I get to wear the girly costume?” I asked, throwing them a few cans of beer. I attempted to pass one to Josh but he was oblivious to what was going on around him. A crumpled Spiderman outfit lay next to him on the sofa.

“Because you’re a girl!” screamed Andy, accompanied by laughter from the other two. The boys chinked their cans together and drank. Josh broke their silence.

“Oh, Moon, rise and let your cooling light douse my burning heart of pain; if you pity me, seize my desires, my hopes and smash them to the stars of the night!” whined Josh.

“What’s his problem?” I asked. Out of the five of us, Josh was the smartest, but unfortunately looked like a monkey’s arse.

“He fell in love with ‘you-know-who’,” said Dave. He wiped beer from his mouth and chest bumped Arthur.

“But she’d never go out with him,” I said. Andy dived on me and forced a long, black wig onto my head.

“Tell him that,” said Dave.

“Oh great, that’s all we need on Halloween night, a bleeding heart!” said Andy.

“Quiet, he might hear you,” I said, swapping my costume for his. Before anyone objected, I was Spidey.

“So? Are we ready to go out on the town?” screamed Andy.

“Hell Yeah!” we cheered.

*****

I counted four, including myself.

“Where’s Josh?” I asked. Something was bashing the inside of my head with a sledgehammer. “Anyone seen him?”

“Not me,” said Arthur, a hollow voice coming from the bowl of the toilet.

“I thought he was with you,” said Andy. Dave was still zonked out on the sofa with some green vegetable stuck up the back of his trousers. A mobile phone rang, it was Andy’s. After searching, we found it under a pile of empty cans in the corner.

“Yeah? Uh-huh? Oh. Right.” Andy dropped his phone in his pocket and headed for the door.

“Who was that?” I asked.

“It was Tom.”

“What does he want?” asked Arthur from the bowl.

“He wants to know why Josh is dressed up as Wonder Woman, completely drunk, moaning on about some ‘moonrise’ and chained to the metal doors of our old school building. Anyone coming with me?”

Oh, Brother!Alis Van Doorn

Alis VanDoorn

“Lily, hurry up!” called Lily’s mother, voice just this side of pleasant. Lily gave a final twirl to her hot pink troll hair point, pleased with her adorable troll dress, creatively shortened a bit, the matching tights, gave her pointed troll slipper boots a blissful smile, and her mind full of Sam’s reaction, sailed downstairs, all fetching troll glory.

“Lily! Now!” Her mother’s voice now on the other side of pleasant.

“Coming!” She troll pranced onto the front porch, stopped short. “Riley! Where’s your troll costume?”

An eight year old scary clown puffed out his chest and said “I’m too old for that. I’m a killer clown! I’ll scare everybody!”

“Well, where’s your candy pail?”

The small killer clown slapped his forehead and raced off to get it.

“Lily, I know you planned on meeting your friends after trick or treating, but you’ll need to stay with Riley afterwards, answer the door.” “Daddy’s working late, he won’t be home till about nine.”

“But why can’t you be here? It’s Halloween! It’s not fair!”

“I’ll be at the rectory, tomorrow’s All Saints. Just catch up with them after the bonfire.”

Realizing argument was futile, Lily sighed dramatically, the sigh of put upon 16 year olds everywhere.

Joining the neighborhood trick or treaters, a sixteen year old troll doll, a tiny killer clown, walked hand in hand.

Dark fell, and soon they were home, diving into candy, answering the door.

By nine thirty, still alone; Lily was getting anxious. She’d have to catch up with everyone by short-cutting through the old apple orchard to the abandoned school. Not her favorite way, spooky even on clear summer nights. If she didn’t leave now, Sam wouldn’t get to see her costume. Which was the whole point.

Lily looked at Riley, currently on a sugar high.

“Riley, I need to leave now, I’ll barely make it even cutting through the orchard. Promise you’ll stay here, not answer the door until Daddy gets home?”

Riley nodded, Lily turned off the porch lights, locked the door and took off running, never noticing the tiny killer clown following.

As Lily reached the orchard, the moonlight dimmed. “Come on, don’t be such a baby.” Lily told herself, trying to ignore an increasing dread. Lily picked up the pace, certain she heard branches moving.

Suddenly she stopped, hearing something behind her. To her left she saw a pair of glowing red eyes, shrieked, took off running.

Just then she heard a desperate little voice choke out “Lil, wait!”

Lily turned, a tiny, terrified killer clown running, sobbing into her arms. “Lil, there’s something back there, something bad. We gotta hide.”

Picking him up, Lily ran for the school, hoping to make it around the side to the open field and bonfire. But the bonfire was out, the field deserted. Frantically she looked for a hiding place. Suddenly she saw a pair of metal doors in the ground leading to the basement. Dropping Riley, Lily yanked hard to no avail. They were stuck.

“Lil.” Riley was pointing behind her, finger shaking.

Lily turned around slowly.

Something was there, impossible to see, equally impossible to miss the menace that seemed to shiver the air.

“Leave us alone! Whatever you are, you are not getting my brother or me! Now go, go back to the cemetery. I banish you in the name of all that’s holy, good and true, go now or face your due.”

Suddenly, the air was clear again, the moon came out from the clouds and Lily and Riley ran.

They took the long way.

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The Iron Writer Challenge #178 – 2016 Autumn Equinox Championship

bandy-chickens

The Iron Writer Challenge #178

2016 Summer Solstice Challenge Championship

Preliminary Round

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Authors:

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

 The Elements:

An old family recipe
A trough
An electric fence
Banty chickens

Not the Crumbs

Ong Sze Teng

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

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

“Digging in human books again?”

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

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

“The crumb covered one?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Corner, there.”

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

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

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

Jack and The Banty Rooster

Michael Cottle 

Deviled eggs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s Billy” Jack said. “He’s crazy!”

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

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

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

Jumping Jack Flash

Tina Biscuit

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

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

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

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

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

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The Iron Writer Challenge #177, 2016 Autumn Equinox Challenge Championship Preliminary Round, Arthur Train Bracket

kid-bango-dog

The Iron Writer Challenge #177

2016 Autumn Equinox Challenge Championship

Preliminary Round

Arthur Train Bracket

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:

arthur_cheney_train

Arthur Train Bracket

Tina Biscuit, Vance Rowe, Malissa Greenwood, Jacob Stalvey O’Neil

Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Banjo

Tina Biscuit

The classroom hushed as Miss Anderson walked in. Don Walker went to the door, where they talked quietly out of earshot of the pupils.

‘Where’s Randy?’ she whispered, ‘ he hasn’t been in since Wednesday.’

Don moved closer, making a gesture to keep the class quiet.

‘I haven’t seen him, Kate; there was a lot of bullying on Wednesday when he brought his banjo into school. They were threatening to throw it in the dumpster, saying that would be the perfect pitch.’

‘Kids can be so cruel with their teasing’, she whispered, ‘they don’t realise how deeply it can hurt people.’

‘Have you tried phoning his mother?’

‘No answer’, she replied, ‘I think we should go to his house at lunchtime, just to make sure.’

‘OK’, said Don, ‘take my car, but I have to stay here.’

*****

Kate drove up the lane, following the directions on Don’s SatNav.

She could see a woman in the kitchen as she knocked on the door. Mrs Thompson opened the door, while removing headphones from her ears.

‘I’ve come about Randy; he wasn’t in school yesterday’, she started.

‘I tried calling you’, Kate continued.

Mrs Thompson pointed at her headphones, ‘I don’t hear the phone when I’ve got these on.’

‘Is Randy okay?’ asked Kate, ‘we were all worried about him, because the kids were being mean to him.’

‘He’s fine; he’s out the back, playing banjo with Bonzo’, she offered the headphones to Kate, ‘you might want these’.

‘Is his playing really that bad?’ asked Kate, ‘I thought the kids were just being nasty.’

‘It’s pretty bad. I think that’s why the bus driver wouldn’t pick him up this morning. He’s been sitting there all day.’

‘The dog seems to like him.’

‘Well, he saved Bonzo’s life: put his own life in danger, trying to pull him out of the river. They’ve been inseparable ever since.

Go and see if you can get a word out of him.’

*****

‘Hi Randy.’

‘Hi Randy’, she said louder, motioning for Randy to stop playing.

She stooped to Randy’s level.

‘Why weren’t you at school yesterday, Randy?’ she asked.

Bonzo barked.

‘I was worried about you’, she said softly, removing the headphones.

‘The kids on the bus were shouting that they didn’t like my playing; even the driver doesn’t like my banjo. I just like to strum along, and make up some tunes’, sobbed Randy.

‘You have to go to school though, Randy. You can learn the banjo after school, and practise at weekends’, said Kate in a comforting voice, ‘I’ll take you back. Finish your tune, while I have a quick word with your mother.’

Mrs Thompson was at the back door watching them as Kate walked back.

‘Did you get anywhere?’ she asked.

‘I think so’, said Kate.

‘I know he’s my son, but I think his father was playing some kind of joke on me, when he bought him that banjo’, she took the headphones from Kate.

Kate rubbed her ears, ‘Yes, there’s a limit to how much we can take, but Bonzo seems to love it.’

‘Bonzo? Bonzo’s deaf, Kate – stone deaf.’

Adagio

Jacob Stalvey O’Neal

Edgar sat on the creaking steps, his back leaned against the flaking white railing as his pudgy six-year-old fingers plucking ineptly at the strings of his banjo. The atonal notes hovered in the air, tinny and honest, competing with the warbling of the jenny wrens playing about the clusters of wisteria hanging over the trellis. Inside, his mother hummed as she scraped and scrubbed the worn dishes in the sink. At the far end of the porch, sprawling lazily in the shade, lay Buddy. The collie mix paid no heed to Edgar’s plinking, instead trying to nap, tongue lolling out in the late afternoon heat.

Edgar tried in vain to stretch his tiny hand across the fret, frowning in concentration. His father had shown him, once, where to put the fingers, which strings to hold down, which ones to let sing freely. But try as he might, he simply couldn’t reach. It was too far.

In frustration, Edgar made a fist and strummed his knuckles furiously across the strings. No sooner had the first discordant notes sounded when  he heard a shriek from the edge of the porch, off under the parlor window. He glanced over, and Buddy had jerked upright, yelping.

The notes faded. Buddy’s head was cocked to the side, ear raised. Experimentally, Edgar raised his hand again, and with a sweep of his arm swept it across the strings once more. And again Buddy yelped, a loud, plaintive howl, tapering to a mewling whine. His head shook from side to side, and he whimpered.

Edgar smiled, slowly at first, his lips spreading into a grin of mischief.

Again he strummed. This time, down, and back up. And down again.

Buddy writhed piteously, crawling and shaking, pressing himself against the siding of the house as far from the steps as he could get, as if to disappear into the wall. He clawed for purchase as he backed against the house, crying, howling.

Edgar kept strumming.

But now Buddy stopped howling.

Instead he parted his lips, showing his teeth, almost as if to smile. He let escape from his throat a soft, purling noise, the beginnings, just the stirrings, of a growl.

And Edgar, blissful, heedless, with all the terrible ignorant bravado and invincibility of childhood, raised his arm once more.

And once more was all it took.

And the banjo sang.

And Buddy leapt.

And Edgar screamed.

*****

Buddy was long gone, barrelling merrily down the street, when Edgar’s mother pushed open the screen door with a slam and let out a screech of her own. The mangled, inanimate thing that had been Edgar was cradled limply in her trembling arms when Buddy spied a little girl, swaying lazily in a rope swing in her yard.

“Hi doggy!” she called brightly.

Buddy wagged his tail.

“Do you like music?” she cooed.

From the pocket of her dress the girl pulled a small silver harmonica.

She smiled as she put it to her lips.

And Buddy smiled too.

Trading Bills for Banjos

Malissa Greenwood 

Janine stared at the computer in disbelief. This can’t be happening, where is all of our money going. Of course she could see where the money was going. Doctor visits. School supplies. Vet bills… The list of expenses was never ending. But the list of income, on the other hand, was short. And the credit cards were at their limit.

“Mom!” “Hey don’t hit!” “Mom!” Her two boys were yelling for her simultaneously and then, as though on cue, the dog started barking on his way through the dog door. In an effort to suppress the noise she marched into the living room where her sons were.

I swear to the lord above if those boys wake April I’m going to beat ‘em within an inch of their lives! Endangered brothers, that’s what they are. “Hush now! The baby is sleeping! What is going on out here?!”

A slurry of explanations spewed forth from her rowdy four- and six-year-old sons. She held up a hand to stop them “One at a time please! Marcus, why is your brother crying?”

“I don’t know but he hit me with the controller!” Marcus exclaimed, pointing a chubby finger at his little brother Keenan.

“Because he called me stupid! Stupid is the not nice word Mom!” Keenen choked out between subsiding sobs.

“Marcus, stop bullying your brother! He’s only a little guy. Keenan, buck up. You can’t just hit someone because they call you a mean word. Ok?” They nodded slowly, considering their options. “Now If you two can’t get along and keep quiet I’ll gonna bust your butts!”

A jumble of “No!” and “But mom!” were met with her patented look of serious discipline.

She heard the dog continue to bark outside. “Alright then. Well you need to be quiet and so does your dog. Go out to the backyard and play with him please. Keep him from barking for thirty minutes and then, if your civil, you can go back to the Xbox.”

As the boys trudged off to the backyard, Janine settled back behind the computer to continue deciding which bills could be paid and which could be put off.

*****

Janine woke later to the sound of music coming from the backyard. She glanced at her watch and wondered how she managed to fall asleep in a house as loud and stressful as hers. She checked the video baby monitor to find April was already out of her crib. She stumbled to the back door, relaxing only when she saw her husband holding April in one arm and the video camera in the other.

“Hey sweetie, didn’t want to wake you. But you’re just in time for the encore show.” He smiled and nodded to the grass where Marcus and Keenan were standing side by side facing their dog Scruff, matching banjos in hand.

“Banjos?” She asked.

“Garage sale down the road.”

She sat down next to her husband, pleasantly stunned at her lifting mood – a beautiful summer evening, a happy baby and husband, and her two sweet, no-longer-arguing boys playing some banjos for their dog. Maybe their lives weren’t endangered after all.

Bully For You

Vance Rowe

Aloysius sits on the sidewalk and is playing his banjo for his dog. He isn’t very good at it yet but the dog is a captive audience for him. He even squawks out a tune for him: “Ah’m a’ pickin’ on my banjo for my dog. I sit and pick for hours right here on my log..”

His song was interrupted by a local teenager who likes to bully the younger kids. 

“Hey, Stupid. What did you do with the money?”

Aloysius stopped picking and singing and looked up at the bully with a sigh.

“What money, Tommy?”

“The money your parents gave you for banjo lessons,” the bully replied with a laugh.

They young boy did his best to ignore the bully and tried to go back to picking his banjo.

The bully didn’t like being ignored so he snatched the banjo from the young boy and ran away with it, laughing maniacally.

This bully picks on younger kids everyday and Aloysius is a target just about everyday and he is sick of it. Aloysius groaned got up off of his log and followed the bully. He is red-faced with anger. This boy has been absolutely pushed to his limit of tolerance for Tommy and his bullying. He grabbed the dog’s leash and led him in the direction that Tommy went. As they walked, he could hear the bully strumming the banjo every once in awhile. He followed the sound and then saw the bully walk up on the porch of his house. The bully sat in a chair on the porch and strummed the banjo until he was called into the house. The bully set the banjo down and went inside. Aloysius quickly ran up on the porch, grabbed his banjo and walked away. The bully soon came back outside and was angered when he saw the banjo was missing.

Tommy went off in search of the young boy. He went right to the spot where he saw the boy earlier sitting on the log and there he was strumming and singing to the dog again. The bully ran up to him, pushed him off of the log, grabbed the banjo and ran off through the woods, cackling with laughter. Aloysius sighed and went off into the woods after the bully. It was starting to get dark out and the woods were even darker. The bully was in unfamiliar territory and ran until he came to a high drop off. He stopped suddenly but lost his footing and fell over the ridge. He grabbed a thick root growing out of the side of the ridge and hung on for dear life. It was about a hundred foot drop with rocks and water below. He yelled for help and Aloysius appeared above him.

“Kid, help me. Please.”

“Where’s my banjo?”

Up there somewhere. I dropped it. Please help.”

He looked around and found the instrument and began strumming it and then began singing as he walked away. “Strumming on my banjo and I can’t lie. I have a feeling that bully’s going to die.”

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