The Iron Writer Challenge #188 2017 Spring Equinox Challenge #9

The Iron Writer Challenge #188

2017 Spring Equinox Challenge #9

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Authors:

Vance Rowe, Elaine Johnson, Emma Crowley, Zac Moran, Sozos Theofrastos, David Jobe 

The Elements:

‘And the people bowed and prayed, to the neon god they made.’

The setting is you are at a last place where you were hurt, for the first time since you were hurt.

A homeless child

A slum

Homeless

David Jobe

“You need to come now.” His voice cracks. It never cracks. 

“Am I coming to say goodbye?” I already know the answer. 

“I think you might be.” He starts to sob. He never cries. 

The first time he had said that, it hadn’t been true. The second time, the same words, had been pure gospel. The too few months that existed between those two held a nightmare of heartache and wretched waiting. Of doctor’s visits and house calls. Of hospice and homecomings.  More ups than down than a rollercoaster, with one final inevitable drop. Cancer starts with silence, and so too must it end. 

Standing underneath the halo of a streetlamp I take in the stark difference between the rolling green hills before me and the tattered rundown buildings behind me. I am not lost on the irony that the dead live in a better place than the living here. Once again I wished I had gathered enough money to have her buried in that place up north. I should have sold my car. Something. At least then it had been running. 

I steel myself against the cold and damp, pulling up my collar as I step across the broken cobblestone street into the Pastures of Eternal Paradise. My memory flows back to the last time I was here. We buried her that day. We buried a piece of me with her. The walk to her stone is short, as her eternal resting place is nearer to the road than I like. The grass is unblemished. Coming back here hurts just as much as that day, maybe more. At least then I was not alone. Tonight, my only friend is the darkness. My only solace is the silence.

Up on the nearby hill the church sits in all it grandeur. Marvelous in its splendor, the bright neon blue glow of their cross blinking as a beacon for the lost. The way the gravestones rest on the hill, makes me feel like I stand among hundreds of bowed bodies, praying to the glowing cross. Standing while they kneel, I am reminded of how much of an outsider I am. An only child to an only parent, we had been a team. Us against the world. Only, the world had defeated one of us. Perhaps both of us. Cancer kills more than its host. 

I kneel down to place the flowers that I brought, already wilting. Money is sparse and these were on sale. She won’t care. She never liked me wasting money on flowers anyways. Thrifty my mother had been. We existed on less than I manage now, and she had at least kept a roof over our head. I will never live up to her standard. I am not sure I want to try.

They say that home is where the heart is. What if your heart is buried in the fragile dirt, six lonely feet down? 

Is the graveyard to be my home then? Or am I truly homeless?

The Sound of Silence
Elaine Johnson 

She took a deep breath and walked into the bar, refusing to glance at the side table at the end, the one in the corner that was so private, where people could talk.  Their space.   

It was empty.  He was undoubtedly out, perhaps with another person.  Probably.  It was none of her business, was it?   Of course not.      

It was like riding a bicycle. You just get back on again.   And that was why she was here, waiting for the bartender to finish whatever he was doing so she could order a drink she didn’t really want.       

She pulled out her cell phone, so it didn’t look like she had nothing to do and no one to talk to, and flipped through CNN.com.   Homeless children. A bomb in a slum.   Refugees.  War.  She clicked it off, picked up the menu and flipped through the plethora of food choices.    And desert choices.   And beverages.   She’d steeled herself for this for days.    Here it was.  Just do it.    

Some guy with a guitar in the other corner was playing that old song.   What were the words?   She hummed along to the second stanza, “And the people bowed and prayed, to the neon god they made.”  

She idly swiped through the phone one last time, until the bartender came over.    She smiled and ordered white wine.  Chablis, then settled in her seat, crossed her legs, and flicked the stiletto heel.  Once she’d have pulled out a cigarette, but she’d quit and couldn’t smoke in the bar anyway.     

She kept reminding herself that she was an adult, a lady, and this all-consuming rage was beneath her.   She was an educated, cultured person in control of her emotions.   Fury did not belong.  Let the vindictive spirit pass.  Let the urge to ruin him forever slide off.   The slime ball.  

Two guys walked past her.    She evaluated both and dismissed them, then flicked a strand of hair back.     Twelve years in a relationship.   She felt a wave of panic.   

Instead of drinking her wine as a beautiful mystery woman, she gulped it and signaled for another.    Men.  They drive you crazy and take over your heart and mind and then they tell you they never meant it to happen.     

She lifted her chin.   You just have to keep getting out there, be available.   You never know.   Look at her cousin.   She nodded to thank the bartender and this time really did sip the drink.  She steeled her soul and studied the shimmer on the glass.   He never was coming back, was he? 

Another Victim of the Street

Emma Crowley

I knew I shouldn’t have come back here, but now my body is no longer under my control. It feels as if my feet are being pulled down the road by the devil himself, each step echoing against the crumbling buildings that surround me on either side. Even in the dim glow of the shattered street lamps, I can see long shreds of peeled paint and chipped bricks falling away into the darkness, threatening to pull the whole block into oblivion. Good. If I ever see this slum again, it will be too soon.

My fingers trace a path along the metal fence, one that they had travelled hundreds of times before. Finally, my feet fall still, and I am allowed to take a look around me, not that I want to. From the second the burnt stench of ash hit my nose, my heart had begged me to flee, yet some part of me asks to stay. It is time, that tiny part of me whispers softly, to face it once and for all.

Tears run down my face as I wrap my hands around the metal fence, surveying the charred skeleton of a house that lays just beyond. I can almost still feel the heat of the blaze, hear the screams. My hands clench around the cold metal, but can only feel the chill against my fingertips. Not only had the fire stolen my family from me, but it had also cruelly taken the feeling in my palms, scorched away like the rest of my life.

A sob escapes me, and I fall to my knees on the ashy pavement. Everything and everyone I loved now lay in the ashes that tickle my nose as I gasp for breath. I am alone.

Lights flicker farther down the street, melding from one color to another in an almost alien way. I wipe my eyes, getting to my feet. It seems to be coming from an open garage door a few houses down. Desperate to wipe the blaze from my mind, I go investigate.

Inside I find a drug induced wonderland illuminated by a criss cross of battered neon lights. And the people bowed and prayed, to the neon god they made, or at least their slumped bodies looked that way.  I weave my way through comatose bodies, some with needles still in hand. Something moves, a child. I crouch as I near her, so that my eyes are level with hers.

“Hey, it’s going to be ok. Let’s get you out of here.” I offer a hand, but she doesn’t move, regarding me with scared eyes. 

“Are you hungry?” I try again, but to no avail. “Are these people your family?” She shakes her head.

“Do you have family?” Again she shakes her head. I sigh, looking down at the ground. 

“Me either.”

When I look back up at her, she has pulled the blanket from her face. “I’m hungry.” Her voice is barely louder than a whisper.

I reach for her hand again, and this time she takes it. I’m not letting this street ruin another life.

Graveyard/Disturbed

Soz Theo

The unyielding, deafening, sounds of silence that slumber in this once sacred space hold no visible hint of the debauchery, hedonism and chaos that had thrived in defiance within her walls.

He had but only thought of this place for the last twenty years. Now, finally returning, Malcolm stands alone within this once teaming skeleton, long since abandoned and left to decay among the surrounding slums. 

Turning slowly, he absorbs as much as he can while reflecting on his surroundings, searching for remnants of himself, certain that they must be imprinted upon her walls. Even now, as in his memory, as in her prime, she’s a seductive siren. He had always loved this floor, without the roof they had rhythmically writhed, exposed, as the sun, and sometimes the rain, beat down on them in tandem with the hypnotic beat. 

Still she has managed to stand, a silent witness to the mischief and mayhem that were the psychedelic tapestry of a misguided youth. It was here upon her floor that Love had flowed, without boundaries, uninhibited, often induced; this place had encouraged mass elation and ecstasy.

This is where his heart had been broken for the first and last time. He has returned to face this place, to face her, to face himself. Closing his eyes, Malcolm succumbs, allowing the unedited memory to envelop him; reality unfolds around him, dissipating with each deep, slowed, deafening breath; venturing back to when he was an enslaved, entranced, water drinking wraith, ululating in time to the emanating energy and cacophony of sweat, bodies, smoke, alcohol and altered minds.

Their generation was one which had undertaken the meaning of life though ironic antonymy, Malcolm had been one of its most fervent followers, forcing music into submission and invoking unity through the sharing of consecrated chemical experience. But not even the most fervent follower was prepared for the realities of that day.

It had been a scorching summer, the blazing sunlight bore down upon the pulsating party, primed to create nostalgia. They prepared for the festivities with the ritualistic meticulousness which accompanied the style of the scene. Top to toe perfection, a mass of stories to be told, and all in attendance, players there to play.  

The day had been full of promise, the people had bowed and prayed to the neon god they had made, as torrents of enchantment emanated from the speakers and connected directly with their souls. But betrayal was brewing in the air, a love too long harboured, and a friend named traitor forever after, were about to destroy the sanctity of this spiritual home. It had hurt. Fort twenty years, through the tears and pain a promise was made and kept with the words, Never Again.

He has never returned to this place until today, a child without a home, having never faced his circumstance or actions, dead inside, never allowing himself joy, happiness, love. A single moment, a lifetime of pain, a symphony of monotony. With his eyes closed, locked in memory, his hand fastened tightly around the handle of the gun, Malcolm says “I love you and I want closure…”

Bloody Memoir

Vance Rowe

“I can’t believe I am back here again.”

“Is this where it happened?” the journalist asked as he scribbled something down in his notebook.

“Yes… it is,” he replied with a sigh.

“Tell me about it.”

“Look at this place. I can’t believe how much it changed. This place used to be a slum. I-I-It was the heart of the ghetto. Now it is luxury apartments. Unbelievable.”

“How old were you when it happened?” the journalist asked, getting somewhat impatient.

 “Look at these people around here. All dressed in suits and nice clothes. People like this used to get mugged and robbed here and now they own it,” he responded, interrupting the journalist.

“Is this the first time you been here since it happened?”

“Yes. It will be the last too.”

“Tell me about it, Jim. What exactly happened that caused you so much hurt?” the journalist pleaded. “This is an important story for your memoir.”

Jim looked at the building and remembered the hurt. He vividly remembered the night his father came home drunk and when his mother got mad, they fought. His father beat his mother like she was a bad habit. This wasn’t the first time either. Finally she had had enough. She pulled a large knife from a drawer and began stabbing him furiously. The floor where he lay was covered in blood. Her face and hands were covered in the crimson liquid as well. 

“I ran from the apartment and banged on my neighbor’s door. When she saw me crying and pointing at my apartment, she walked to it and was horrified when she saw my mother still stabbing the dead body. She ran back to the apartment and called the police. They came and took her away. I guess she went to some hospital because she had lost her mind.”

“Jim, that’s awful. I am so sorry.”

“I still can’t listen to the song the “Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel. It was on the radio when my neighbor answered her door. I remember staring at her radio when the line ‘The people bowed and prayed, to the neon god they made’ and wished there was a god to come and help me.”

“That is when you became homeless?”

“Yes, sir. The police tried to take me but I ran from them and hid for several days. I was twelve years old and was homeless for the first and last time in my life.”

“You eventually were found, right?”

“Yeah, the police found me sleeping behind some garbage cans one night. They brought me to child services and was soon put in a foster home. I prospered there and went to school and then college, determined to make a better life for myself. I did. I became a famous author and now here we are.”

“This is going to be quite a memoir. You will have to tell me about your life in foster care too.”

“I will but that’s another chapter for another day. I am whipped right now.”

“After reliving that part of your childhood, I completely understand. We will pick this up tomorrow, my friend.”

Wonderful Day in the Neighborhood

Zac Moran

Los Angeles, CA – November, 2061

A line of tarp and plywood huts lined the concrete river bank next to a set of rusted train tracks.

I run messages for a living. Not the best job for a thirteen-year-old, but it keeps a roof over my head. Not that the orphanage has much of a roof. There is one major downside of the job though. I’m usually getting shot at.

A boy climbed down from the second story of a caved in building on the other side of the tracks. He crept towards the hovels and a few small animals scattered.

This was home for a while, but I haven’t been here since my parents and I were caught in the soldier’s crossfire. My parents didn’t make it. Damn war.

The boy walked into the hut and sat down amongst the rubble. He glanced around the small room.

I’m surprised it’s still standing. There was a lot of explosions. Wait, is that my music player? These are easy to come by, but it’s hard to get one with music on it. Mine had all the best songs. I wonder…

“And the people bowed and prayed, to the neon god they made!” came a voice from the device.

“What was that?” said a voice outside.

Son of a-

“It came from over there!”

Multiple sets of heavy boot steps drew close to the shelter. The boy bolted through a small hole in the back, but was grabbed by his shirt and pulled up.

“I’ve got him. Looks like a runner!” yelled the man who had grabbed him. The guy was wearing a bulky vest and carrying a rifle in his other hand.

Great. Alliance troops.

Another soldier came around from the front of the shack.

“Well look at this. So what kinda message you carrying?”

A message for Nun’ya. Nun’ya Business.

The boy kicked the shack, which fell over in a cloud of dust. Then he pulled a knife out of his belt and buried it in the soldier’s arm. He was promptly dropped as the soldier howled. Without hesitation, the boy sprinted across the train tracks and into the building. 

He turned a corner inside and ran down the hall. Hearing the other soldier closing in behind him, he jumped, put one foot on the wall, and bounced off the wall towards a hole in the ceiling. He grabbed onto the ledge and pulled himself up in one fluid motion. He continued running and heard several bursts from the floor below, followed by holes exploding in the floor around him.

They always resort to bullets. Can’t ever have an honest race with these guys.

The boy sprinted to the end of the hall and dived through the broken window into the next building over. He then proceeded to the top of the building and made his way over several rooftops before he stopped, ducked down, and looked back. He saw the soldier exit the first building and go back to help the one with the knife in his arm. Shortly, a medical vehicle picked them up.

Yeah, get out of my neighborhood.

  

The Iron Writer Challenge #182 – 2017 Spring Equinox Challenge #3

The Iron Writer Challenge #182

2017 Spring Equinox Challenge #3

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Authors:

E. Chris Garrison, Bobby Salomons, M. D. Pitman, Vance Rowe, Josh Flores

The Elements:

A lying national media cable TV anchorman (real or fictional)

Global warming

A crystal ball

A small snowblower

Doing Something About the Weather

E. Chris Garrison

Sally’s elderly Prius barreled along the breakdown lane of the freeway. The thermometer and the speedometer both read 75.

Other drivers, stuck in a jam, blared their horns at Sally. Some made rude gestures. Did she hear cars backfiring or shots being fired by hotheads? 

Sally didn’t care. She wouldn’t be denied the truth.

From the bracket on her windshield, her smartphone streamed news of the Weather Emergency. Bundled up in a parka, the cable news anchor mimed shivering cold while talking with a bespectacled woman in a puffy coat. White flakes swirled around them on the New York City streets.

“So, this wave of cold will continue until the end of January, Dr. Fahrenheit?”

The woman stared at the camera. Her eyes panned from right to left as she said, “Yes, that is correct. The polar vortex is sweeping across the plains, through the Midwest, and on to the East Coast.”

Sally exited the freeway, upsetting more drivers as she whizzed past them on the shoulder. The side of her car struck sparks from the concrete barricades along the right. Sally laughed as she passed a supermarket, its lot full of cars. The news told her that stores had all the French Toast ingredients depleted due to the Weather Emergency, since citizens had been warned that they’d have to stay off the streets after dark, so that plows could clear the streets for the morning commute.

Sally turned up her air conditioning as she skidded onto Broadway, the back end of her car fishtailing.

A great glass orb, very much like a giant snowglobe, blocked the roadway. Inside, Sally made out the figures of Blaine Roberts and Dr. Fahrenheit, their gestures slightly leading the broadcast. Sally resisted the urge to speed up as their faces registered terror as her car burst through flasher barricades and hired guards flung themselves out of her way.

The nose of her Prius met the enormous glass enclosure, which cracked like an egg. Sally hit the brakes even as the airbag deployed and shoved her back in her seat.

She flung open the car door and stumbled into the space between the camera and the other two. She picked up handfuls of white flakes and rubbed them all over her face. “It’s a lie! Global warming is real! They’re lying to you! This is just styrofoam!”

The low drone of a small snowblower’s electric motor quit. So did the camera’s red light.

Many rough hands seized Sally at once.

Blaine Roberts stood before her. “Ma’am, you’re in a lot of trouble. Vehicular assault, sure, but also the Weather Normalization Act, which makes discussing Global… Discussing that topic, a federal offense.”

“You’re not fooling anyone! They’re pretending, just like you! This is stupid! Why doesn’t anyone wake up?”

“Look, if you people win the election next time, then you can write the news.” Blaine flicked a piece of glass off his parka as Sally was dragged away. “Could someone get that poor woman a coat?”

Cold Lies, Burning Truth

Josh Flores

Why do I keep trusting Jimenti Roso after he made up stories to improve ratings? No one caught on when he lied about a magic cure to cancer being tested or how the perfect weight loss drug was found. Then he decided to make up a kidnapping. That made the Were-Police begin sniffing around. He had to admit he lied. The scandal lasted a while. 

He was fired. He was interviewed. He wrote a book. He became more famous. He did the talk shows. He was re-hired. Ratings went up. Job accomplished. 

I watch his plastic-like mouth stretch out on my cable-ready crystal ball. Canines sharp and white belied the words barking past them.  

“Global warming, the world’s leading sorcerers have confirmed, is a human urban myth! It is simply not happening. There is no danger of the Earth’s climate changing. The Warlock Coven has released an official statement today. They have looked at the mortals’ scientific data and consulted their charts, familiars, crystal balls, the stars, and the bones; and have determined global warming to be a hoax, created by some of the human corporations and political groups to control others and make money.”

I’m hoping he isn’t lying. Winter business has been bad for a few years now. I look at my inventory: snow plows, shovels, salt, scrapers, dragon’s fire-spit, heaters, and of course, snow blowers. I stock from small to heavy duty ones. But the last few winters have been mild and if it wasn’t for the other stuff selling at a reasonable rate, I would be bankrupt. 

My attention goes back to Roso. 

“In other news, sightings of dragons, chimeras, phoenixes, and other fire creatures have increased. These beasts have been captured and handled by the Defense Mystics, who have put out a national alert asking anyone who notices unusual steam, flames, or heat to report it immediately. When asked as to why these pests are populating rapidly, the spokesman said, 

‘No comment. Man, it is getting warm in here.’” 

I wonder if I can sell Roso a snow blower or two. I fantasize about it for a bit when my doorbell rings. A customer! Finally.  

I look up to see a brown-skinned lanky man, with salt and pepper hair and beard.  

“Hablas Espanol?” 

“No.”

He lifts his hand in a stop motion and reaches into his pocket to pull out his wand.  

“Parli Ingles!” He incants. “Me understand you?” 

My face said no.

“Parli Ingles ni google!” He pauses. “Do you understand me?” 

“Yes. How may I help you?” 

“I want to buy all this. How much?” 

“Why?”  

“This year a lot of snow in my country. I sell these and all others I find, no?” 

“Sure, we can come up with a price fair to both.” 

I look at my crystal ball TV. “So no such thing as global warming, Mr. Roso?”

“Jimenti Roso?”

“Yes.” 

“His name in Spanish sounds like He mentiroso — ummm — He Liar.” 

 Blasted Snow

 Vance Rowe

“There will be little to no snow at all this year due to global warming in the upper portion of North America and Canada, so you can all sell your snowblowers and keep your shovels in the shed. You won’t even need winter clothes this year as it will never be colder than 72 degrees Fahrenheit,”said Smiling Chet Armstrong, America’s favorite newscaster.

“Hot Damn. No snow this year,” Eustis said, looking outside. Eustis lives on a hill and his driveway is long. He tires of walking it with a snowblower. “Now I can sell that blasted thing.”

“Wait a minute, you cannot trust that liar. Before you do anything, let me consult with my crystal ball. Spirit has never led us astray yet,” his wife said. 

“Bah, you and that damn crystal ball. You consult your glass ball and I will put a sign up down by the road.” 

After Eustis put the sign up, he walked back up the long driveway to his house, his wife greeted him at the door and said, “Spirit says we are in store for a lot of snow this year, Eustis.”

“Grenadine, I want to hear no more about it. I will believe Smiling Chet over your stupid ball.”

“You’re a fool, Eustis. What happens if we get a lot of snow this year?”

“We won’t, Grenadine. Smiling Chet said so.”

Two days later, the snowblower sold and Chet was a thrilled man. Regrettably, two weeks later, Chet stopped being a thrilled man when the snow fell. It fell for two days straight.

“You blamed fool. I told you not to believe that son-of-an-unnamed-goat. Now what are you going to do?”

“I will just go buy another snowblower, Grenadine.”

Eustis found a place that sold only small snowblowers.

He purchased a small snowblowers, and it only just made a path up his driveway after hours of use. 

“Face it, Eustis. It will be easier just to shovel.” Grenadine yelled to him.

Seething, Eustis responded with, “I ain’t shoveling jack.”

Eustis grabbed his shotgun off of the rack above the fireplace, went out to his truck and drove to the news studio where Smiling Chet broadcasts at. He walked inside and grabbed the newscaster by the scruff of his neck and dragged him out to the truck.

“What happened to not being any snow, Smiling Chet? What do you call this? I sold my big snowblower because of your stinking lies.”

“I-I-I don’t know what happened,” Chet replied, stuttering.

“Shut up and shovel before your new nickname is Toothless Chet.”

A police car soon pulled up in front of Eustis’s house and the county sheriff stepped out of the vehicle.

“Oh, thank God. This man kidnapped me and is forcing me to shovel his driveway.”

“Is this true, Eustis?”

“Sure is, Sheriff. This lyin’ so and so said we wouldn’t be getting any snow this year and I sold my snowblower.”

“Sheriff, don’t just stand there. Arrest him and let me go.”

“Nope, I sold my snowblower too because of you. Bring him by my place when you are done, Eustis.”

“Sure will, Sheriff. I sure will.”

Papa

Bobby Salomons

The director and live studio are blabbering through each other like drunk sonority girls on Mardi Gras. I know – I was one.

“So, why the crystal ball again?” I say to the expert next to me. “I don’t think I caught on the first time.”

“’Global Warming’ is pure ‘fortune-telling’. A hoax.”

Across from the parking lot, an elderly, black man is clearing his lawn with a small snowblower. His red ski jacket and white snow hat remind me of my grandfather. ‘Papa’ was a Norwegian immigrant, loved snow and ice. Never used a snowblower, maybe a snow shovel but not before we’d play and build a snowman. I miss him.
“We’re about to go live.” Terry, my cameraman, says. “Maybe more cleavage?”

“Cleavage!? It’s freaking 23F!” I bark.
“It was a joke, Melissa.”

“A cold day for Global Warming!” My colleague Nancy in the studio chuckles, I hate her. “And my colleague is outside! In a blizzard! With an expert! Melissa, how is it out there?”

“Hi, Nancy! It sure is cold! They theorize the Earth is warming but it sure doesn’t feel that way out here! Oh! Is that a polar bear!?” I say, pointing at a white Husky passing by. Fake laughter in the studio.

“I’m here with Simon DeWitt! Expert from the Independent Ecological Research Institute.”

“That’s right!” He grins, “No associations with other research groups, no government grants!”

“So, tell us about this ‘Global Warming’-theory in the middle of a blizzard!”

He begins his story of disinformation. I zone out, looking across the street. The man’s still there, blowing snow, his back to me. For a moment, I believe it really is my ‘papa’. He turns around. I gasp. It is.

“I know!” The expert says smug, crystal ball in hand, believing it’s about him.

I choke. Seconds pass. Terry’s making a face at me.

“I-I can’t do this.” I say, thinking of ‘papa’, “This is all a lie. This man isn’t a real expert, he’s an economist paid by Exxon Mobil!”

“We have no asso-”

“-Oh, please! You’re wearing one of their key chains right now!”

Terry zooms in, the expert breaks sweat.

“I’m sorry, global warming is real. Pass the world on to our children the way it was left to us, so they too can see a REAL polar bear, not just a dog pointed out by a lying anchorwoman! Just Google it, dammit!” I yell emotional.

“Um, thanks, Melissa. We’re back in the studio, it appears our colleague is having some… technical problems…” Nancy says.

“Why don’t you go suck a dick, Nancy! Maybe it’ll warm your cold heart!”

“That’s it! You’re fired!” The director barks over the headset.

“Good! I’ll go work for the Home Shopping Network!”

I push my microphone into the ‘expert’s’ hands, head for my car and drive off passed the house. The man’s stopped the snowblower. He’s himself again, waves and smiles. I blow a kiss his way.

One Lie Too Many

M.D. Pitman

Jacob Scott’s jaw hung open for a good fifteen seconds before he realized he wasn’t saying anything and asked the ZNN’s president, “You want me to say what?”

“I don’t think I stuttered,” said Louis Copeland, who founded the news network 40 years ago as a way to report the news how he saw fit.

ZNN has developed into the go-to echo chamber for those of a certain political persuasion, which is the same persuasion of those currently in power. That made ZNN the most powerful and popular news networks, and Louis Copeland the most powerful political figure.

It also is the most despised because of the sensationalized and often inaccurate news. But Louis did not care because he’s making more money than ever before even though his rhetoric has transformed from fringe to flat out falsehoods.

Jacob’s been told to say many things over the years, who started out as a 38-year-old anchor with idealistic fervor. A half-decade later he’s developed into a jaded cynic because of the B.S. he’s been ordered to “report.” 

He compares Louis Copeland to a charlatan clairvoyant gazing into an oversized crystal ball. But the only thing oversized was Louis’ ego … and Jacob’s dependency on his seven-figure salary. That’s been enough to compensate his conscious as he’s become America’s most unreliable news anchor

“I’m to say global warming is a hoax because of Stihl? The power tool company?” Jacob’s jaw has yet to shut.

“Specifically their lawnmowers and snow blowers,” Louis added.

Jacob could usually spin what Louis wanted to be said on the news, but he’s been able to spin it into something that didn’t sound like it was a mandated from a senile fool. “That doesn’t sound a bid … um, odd?”

“No. Not at all,” said the octogenarian news magnate.

Jacob ran his fingers through his perfectly sculpted hair. He closed his eyes as he inhaled a deep breath, held it for a second, and slowly released it. He opened his eyes, looked Louis into the eyes and said, “It’ll be an unforgettable report.”

Louis Copeland slyly smiled as he nodded. “That’s by boy.”

*****

“Hey, Linda,” said Frank as he cracked open his second beer from the cooler next to his recliner. “Check this out. I think that Jacob Scott guy you like on ZNN is having a nervous breakdown.”

Dressed in an apron and wiping her hands with a kitchen towel, Linda walked into the living room staring at the television. All that appeared were the color bars with the words “Please Stand By” appearing. “What did he do?”

Frank tapped rewind on the DVR to the start of the newscast the pressed play. “Watch this craziness.”

“Good evening and welcome to ZNN,” Jacob Scott started before pausing. He took out his earpiece. “I can’t do this anymore. I’ve been told to repot” – and he made quote marks around that word – “and because I wanted to keep my job I did. But I can’t anymore.”

Before Jacob Scott could say another word, a producers rushes on set and the color bars appear.

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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