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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The Iron Writer Challenge #175, 2016 Summer Open Challenge #12

clown

The Iron Writer Challenge #175

2016 Summer Open Challenge #12

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

  Authors:

Tina Biscuit, Maureen Larter, Steven L. Bergeron, Roger Campbell

The Elements:

A clown, numbers, A barn, Rabbit Stew

Fired

Tina Biscuit

‘I’m funny how? I mean funny, like I’m a clown? I amuse you?’

‘Well, yeah’, Connie agreed, ‘but right now, I need to use the bathroom, and don’t be using all my lipstick’, she continued, her head slumped against the other side of the door.

The door opened.

‘How do I look?’ Colin asked.

‘Funny.’

‘Funny how?’

‘Don’t start that again; we need to get going. I’ve arranged to meet with Marvin before the show.’

‘Alright, Connie, but why have we got to meet him?’

‘I’ll tell you on the way. I’ve got some news.’

‘Sounds ominous. I’ll get my shoes on.’

He was still lacing up his shoes when Connie came to the door of their trailer.

‘So, what’s the news, Connie?’ he said with a broad grin.

‘I’m going to need a bigger box, Colin.’

They walked over to Colin’s car; he stepped in, and opened the door for her.

‘I’m not going in your ridiculous car’, she turned, and started walking.

She walked in silence. Colin drove next to her for a minute, until they arrived at Marvin’s office.

‘Are you finding it harder to get into the box, Connie?’

‘Kind of, but I’m going to be getting a lot bigger’, she said with a whimper. ‘I want to ask Marvin for a rise, or see if we can get you a new job’.

‘What’s brought this on, Connie?’

‘I’m pregnant, Colin. We’re going to hear the patter of tiny feet.’

‘Big feet’, Colin corrected her.

‘Can’t you be serious for a minute?’

‘No.’

‘Unless our numbers come up on the lottery, we have to play this one sweetly’, she chided.

Marvin came out of his office, pulling a gold pocket-watch from his garish waistcoat.

‘Well, if it isn’t my favourite contortionist and clown; to what do I owe this pleasure?’ he said, ushering them inside.

‘It seems we’re asking for a raise’, Colin blurted out.

‘Or a new job’, Connie added.

‘How about a knife-thrower? That’s a fine act’, Marvin offered.

‘Yeah’, said Connie, ‘a clown that couldn’t hit a barn door, throwing sharp things at the pregnant lady – that’s going to pull in the crowds.’

‘How’s your balance, Colin?’

‘You’re not going to get me up on the high-wire again, Marvin, unless you fix those safety nets’, Colin replied.

‘I’ll have a word with Mephisto, maybe he can help’, said Marvin.

‘I can’t do magic’, said Colin.

‘No, but I was thinking he could keep you in rabbit-stew for a while’, he said, wryly.

‘You do know that he uses the same rabbits every night, Marvin? He doesn’t really magic them out of his hat’, said Connie.

Marvin stood up; the show was starting.

‘We’ll talk about this later, guys. I think Bobby’s about to do his big entrance.’

They startled as the explosion resonated through the canvas walls of the big top. The gasps of the astonished audience accompanied a three-second flight. The lightning-bolt atop Bobby the human cannonball’s helmet pierced, and ripped, into Marvin’s office. The spent shell of Bobby crumpled to the floor.

‘Looks like your career path has taken a new trajectory, Colin.’

What Am I Observing?

Roger Campbell

He stood motionless. His eyes opened to the point they hurt. His mouth opened to the point it hurt. What he was seeing was not possible.  Slowly Brian scanned the street in both directions. 

All the structures along the road were barns. While a rich assortment of styles and colors, they were barns.  Barns situated so tightly together as if to imitate row houses.  And it seemed as if each had a different hue.

“What the heck?” Brian slapped his face, opened and shut his eyes several time and pinched himself. “This ain’t possible.” The barns did not go away. 

“What the heck yourself. I’m late.” As the clown hurried past Brian, it tipped its very under size top hat and honked a crimson nose.

Before Brian could react another clown approached. After tipping his hat and honking his nose it asked a question. “Pardon me. Do you know where barn 21 is?”

After looking at several barns’ numbers, Brian replied. “Well, this one is number 19, so the next one should be number 21.”

“Huh?” The clown wiggled his mouth and eyes. “Ah no. The next one is 42.” 

“Than that’s 21.” Brian turned to the opposite direction and pointed. 

“No, no. That’s 13.” A doubting clown stared at Brian. “Are you sure you know your numbers?”

“Hey, why ya’ll standing there looking like a couple of statues?” A third clown asked as he walked past. “The rabbits just announced their stew’s ready. Come on.” He waved for the pair to join him. “Heard a rumor they actually put some real food in it this time. None of that green stuff they like.” With a tip of his hat and a spin of his tie the clown hurried off.

Brian took a deliberate look at the street in both directions, the barns and the clowns. As he did so all the barns slowly changed colors and numbers. It did not surprised Brian when he noticed a rabbit looking clown standing beside him.

“You’re the same clown I’ve been talking to, aren’t you?”

“Oh, I say. That is a most rude question. Of course I am the same one. Do you think I changed my looks?” It held up a finger. “ Do not answer that. A clown never changes their appearance.”

Brian took another look around. “This ain’t real. . . .  Where am I?”

“The question to be rendered is not, Where am I? That is very clear. You are there?” The clown pointed at Brian’s feet. “A question which would be more appropriate would be, What am I observing?”

“Okay, What am I observing?”

“You are not only observing, but are also participating in a dream. One which could be define as a very strange, perhaps even weird, dream.”

“How does this end?” Brian watched the barns change again.

“When you wake up.” The clown began moving his arm in a circular motion. “Which will not happen until you go back to sleep.”

WHAM! A fist slammed into Brian’s jaw. 

Harold the GreatSteven Bergeron

Steven L Bergeron 

“Ladies and Gentlemen for your viewing pleasure we have, what’s clearly our top ten entertainers this company has ever produced. We present to you Harold the Great.”

With that introduction, it will surely going to be my last. My little car barrelled it’s way out the pearly gates hitting every barrel insight. Harold the Great had become this companies bubbling fool. The entire crowd was roaring in there seat at my antics. Well almost everyone, this old man in the top row sat there motionless, his eyes fixed on all my moves.

I ‘m a Stewart and this was the end, I was all clowned out. I proceeded to my trailer to pack up my life. As I poured my last ounce of JD,a knock suddenly appeared my door . I ignored it thinking it was the ringmaster with my last pay check.

“Mr Great, I would like to have a word with you?” That voice so dead, it took me back to our last talk.

“What can I do for your old man?”

“I have a proposition for you.”

I opened the door looking him straight in the eye.

“After all of these years , why should I listen to you?”

“If not for me, do it for your mother. You know every Sunday she’s been cooking her “Country Corn bread with rabbit stew” with the barn windows wide open, hoping the aroma would call you back.”

“So you come crawling back, hoping that I forgive you.”

“Something like that, it was your mother’s idea that I come tonight. She threatened me to make amends tonight or she would be gone by the time I get back. Can I come in? We can talk better in private.”

He took the couch as I finished my last swig.

“I’d offer you some but this is all I got left. You know I saw you in the bleachers just staring.”

“Well I never been much for rodeos or clowns. But if it’s any consolations you were good.”

“Thanks too bad it’s going to be my last.”

“Oh”

“I make a fool of myself out there tonight. It’s the first time back here since I left. The crowd made me feel like a fool. I’m a Stewart and should be proud of it.”

“Yes you are a Stewart , and like all of us a strong head on your shoulders. What you are doing leaving all of this behind, takes guts. I was wrong all those years ago calling you a fool. I learnt something to tonight, it doesn’t feel all that bad to admit when you are wrong. Come on let me gives you a hand with all of this?”

For the first time in my life I understood where my father was coming from. And that folks was the last anyone ever heard of Harold the Great. The Stewarts were a family again, till our next big outburst.

HavenMaureen Larter

Maureen Larter

They sat, huddled together for warmth, in the barn. They hoped no-one had seen them sneak across the field at the back of the lonely farmhouse. Fortunately it had been cloudy and the moon had only shone filtered light to ease their escape from the soldiers.

Aaron spoke first. His voice was muted but sounded loud in the tense silence of the barn.

“We need food.”

Ester stood and looked outside, her eyes scanning the field for anything that moved.

“The soldiers might search here in the morning – we have to keep moving.” She looked at her husband, registering his tired eyes and hunched and troubled stance. “We have to get Abigail somewhere safe to have her baby.”

Joseph nodded.

“The rabbit stew we had two days ago,” he said, the sadness permeating each word, “won’t sustain us for much longer. We will have to ask the owners of this farm for some food.”

‘But what if they are Nazi sympathizers,” Lamar hissed. “They may turn us in. We will be shot!”

“I’ll go.” Abigail said quietly.

They all shook their heads.

“You can’t, my love.” Aaron clung to her, yet knowing the desperation would change their minds.

“I must,” she said. “Look at me – eight months pregnant. Surely they wouldn’t turn me away.”

She twisted away from Aaron and slipped outside just as the moon shone brightly through a break in the clouds.

The family shrank back into the shadows as Abigail made her way toward the farmhouse. The wave of fear followed her, but she moved purposefully on. The knock seemed to echo across the valley, and Aaron jerked forward, ready to run for his wife, but the door opened almost immediately and Abigail disappeared inside. The family, hidden still, and anxious, took a collective breath and waited.

Although it felt like hours, it was only some fifteen minutes later that Abigail re-appeared.

She beckoned.

“Do you think she’s being forced to get us?” Lamar whispered, dread breaking his voice into a whimper.

“Don’t be a clown, Lamar,” Aaron spoke harshly filled with the same fear. “Your sister wouldn’t put us in danger. She’d have thought of something to warn us.”

The family crept out of the barn and carefully moved to the shadows near Abigail.

“Is it okay?” Ester whispered.

“Yes – come!” Abigail grinned with relief. “I knew we were safe when I noticed the man of the house reading ‘Numbers’ in the bible.” She held out her hand as her family hesitantly stumbled towards her. “Come in, come in,” she repeated. ” Levi welcomes us.”

They had a safe haven … for now.

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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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