The Iron Writer Challenge #146
2016 Winter Solstice Challenge #4
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
A prenuptial agreement
Taking a Ride
Screams filled the back of the ambulance. A young man, barely more than a boy, covered in sweat fought against his restraints as a paramedic tried to calm him. After a short moment he calmed again, releasing a harsh gasp as his muscles relaxed.
A young woman at his feet reached up to caress his calf.
“You OK sweetie?” She asked.
“It comes in waves” he croaked, his voice destroyed by repeated screams. “That was a bad one.”
“Gympie Stinger’ll do that to ya.” The paramedic’s Australian accent was thick, hard to understand for the young couple.
“Gympie Stinger?” the girl asked.
The paramedic pointed to the welts on the boy’s chest. “Big green plant with pink fruits?”
The girl looked concerned. “Yeah, he dropped his fob watch while we were hiking. Went in after it.”
The paramedic nodded. “Gympie Stinger. They’re covered in stinging hairs. Potent neurotoxin. Not deadly if ya get treatment. But he got one heck of a dose.” He gestured again at the beet red welts covering the boy’s torso.
A low groan started again, deep in the boy’s throat. His back arched, slightly at first, then more violently.
“Aaaaggh! Son of a….” he screamed, or at least tried to scream. The last words cracked into a whisper as his voice finally gave way. He strained against the restraints, fighting convulsions as the girl stroked his legs.
“Hold on there big fella,” the paramedic said. “We’ll be to the ‘ospital right soon enough. They’ll fix ya up with some proper pain killas.” He turned to the girl. “Your husband, was he shirtless when he went in?”
The girl looked up, he eyes watering. “What? Oh, um, yes. Well, he’s my fiancé. He got hot and took his shirt off. I guess he should be glad he kept those stupid skinny jeans on.” She tried to produce a brave smile..
“Right. Don’t need that mess on his bum.” The paramedic smirked. “Or worse.”
The ambulance jolted to a stop. A few seconds later the driver flung open the back door. The girl jumped out, allowing the paramedics to slide the gurney onto the pavement. The boy had calmed significantly. His breathing was more regular than any point since the incident.
She grabbed his hand as they wheeled inside. He squeezed her hand, caught her eye. “Just had to be Australia didn’t it?”
She smiled at him. “You know this was my dream trip. I feel awful.” Tears started to roll down her cheeks.
He squeezed her hand tighter. “Don’t worry babe. Could have been worse. Could have stumbled on a nest of funnel webs.” She tried to smile, but failed.
The paramedics handed him off to a team of nurses and doctors, barking out medical terms neither the girl nor boy understood.
A nurse gestured the girl to the admittance desk. As he rolled away the boy raised his head. “Just know, I’m putting ‘No more Australia’ in the pre-nup.”
She smiled as he disappeared behind the emergency room doors.
A Painful Brew
She hustled through the mansion with intensity of purpose. A whirlwind of emotions – anger, bitterness, fear and determination – all competed for center stage in her brain. He lay unconscious in the den, shades pulled down to block out the sunlight; the sound of snoring told her he would be out for quite a while. Enough time to do what she’d finally decided to do.
As she passed through the winding corridors of their enormous home, images of happier days flashed through her mind. She’d been instantly captivated by the rock-star’s good looks – long hair, leather jacket, skinny jeans – and overjoyed that he’d chosen her of all people – a naïve blonde young thing from Tennessee. She got swept up in his passion for living large and partying hard, and before she knew it, they were married. She’d signed the pre-nup without hesitation, knowing they’d be together forever – he was crazy about her, he’d said, she was so amazing, so different from his first wife: that bitch was a lunatic. She chuckled bitterly to herself. Maybe I’m not so different after all.
Her thoughts flashed forward in time. When did she start to realize that passion could be a poison? He was obsessed with collecting things – weird things, like objects of torture and antique fob watches; bizarre plants and spiders. At first, she was charmed by his quirky hobbies, like his affinity for brewing his own Kombucha teas. But even this became an obsession – he would spend hours searching online for exotic ingredients collected from remote islands. And over time, she’d discovered that his true passions included a dark, twisted, evil side. The objects of torture no longer remained innocently in their glass cases – instead, they were frequently used on her, to brutally inflict pain. Her screams of suffering seemed to bring him sick pleasure.
She shuddered violently in an attempt to physically shake away the dark thoughts. She finally reached his “study,” a room filled with junk that he’d collected over the years during successful worldwide tours with his heavy metal band. Cages stacked against the walls housed mice, tarantulas and pythons. She bypassed these, and strode with purpose towards a terrarium containing a rather innocent-looking plant. But she knew better. He’d discovered it during a tour in Australia, and it was his prize possession. She remembered him showing it to her after their first date. It’s a dendrocnide moroides, also called a gympie-gympie plant, he’d said, and when she’d laughed at the name, his face had grown dark. It’s nothing to laugh at – it’s the deadliest, most painful plant on the planet. The stingers on these things are like hypodermic needles. Horses jump off cliffs when they brush against them. She’d been secretly fascinated. Wow, I wonder what it would do if you ate it? She’d wondered aloud. He’d chuckled morbidly. I wouldn’t want to be the one to find out.
Soon he would.
With fierce determination stamped across her face, she pulled on a pair of heavy-duty work gloves and removed the cover of the terrarium. It was her turn to brew a new batch of Kombucha.
I look around the church. Pale faces stare expectantly from the pews. Quillian draws his pocket watch from his waistcoat and flicks the clasp. He squints, holding the watch at arms-length as if playing the trombone, until he can read it. Even eternal life it’s seems can’t cure hyperopia.
“She’s late,” he declares, returning the watch to his pocket.
“We’re immortal, what’s a few minutes? Anyway, she’ll be here. She has to be, it was part of the agreement.”
“We’re running out of time.” Quillian paces in front of the altar.
Outside there is a hollow clunk of car doors before one of the watchers enters the atrium and gives the signal.
“About time.” Quillian murmurs.
Somewhere within the bowels of the church the organ wheezes into life, then through the doors she enters. Francesca looks resplendent in a pair of ripped skinny jeans and a white corset that shimmers in the reflected moonlight through a shard of stained glass. Two attendants, their arms linked with hers, stand either side, in equal measure both supporting her and ensuring she doesn’t escape. Her own hands are clasped together around a Moonlighter bouquet. Small purple berries poke delicately from among the thick green leaves.
As she reaches the front of the church, her attendants unlock their arms and take a step toward the pews. Francesca looks over her shoulder, perhaps considering her options of escape, then thinks better of it.
“You look ravishing my Dear,” I say, stepping forward.
“I won’t do this,” she spits between clenched teeth.
“It will be over soon…they say the first hundred years of a marriage is always the hardest.”
“I won’t become…one of you.”
“But you have no choice my Dear. Perhaps you don’t recall?” I draw the parchment from my mourning suit. “I considered a human bride might get cold feet. That’s why I took the precaution of drawing up a contract…a prenuptial agreement of sorts?” I hold the paper in front of her eyes, then read aloud. “I Francesca Delarosa hereby pledge the sum of one mortal soul for eternity in exchange for my brother’s life.”
“You tricked me.”
“We need to get on with this.” Quillian interjects.
“Very well,” I sigh.
Quillian removes the bouquet from her hands and tosses it into the handful of guests. There is a screech from one of the girls in the second row. Her face wells painfully with tears from the stinging neuro toxins, or maybe it’s just the excitement.
Quillian rapidly recites the criteria for the union.
“Do you, Silvano Pellegrino, take this human to be your bride, through all eternity?”
“And do you Francesca take Silvano to be your husband and keeper for all eternity.”
“Never!” She hisses.
Quillian nods to me. “You may kiss your bride.”
I lean toward Francesca. She recoils, but her two attendants assist. But as I swoop to taste the virgin flesh of her shoulders, the first rays of morning sunlight stream through the stained glass windows above.
Daniel J. Sanz
Edmund Kaye slipped on his frayed coat and placed the creased fedora over wispy white hair. Low murmurs of weary workers rolled across the factory floor. Each face was as ashen as the next as everyone shuffled towards the doors. Ghosts in a concrete sea. Edmund hobbled to catch up. His fingers cramped from clutching circuit boards and a dull ache beat behind his eyes. The old clock hung from its chain above the exit, swaying hypnotically like a pocket watch in the gusts of personnel scurrying out the door. Edmund was almost to sanctuary when a voice called out to him.
Edmund clenched his eyes and reluctantly turned back. It was the young floor manager, Jean Hardy and her sycophant, Jean Monroe. Known as “the two Jeans” these corporate drones stood before him with their slender frames adorned in power suits and wielding clipboards.
“Mr. Parker passed away this morning and I’m afraid you’ll need to take on some of his load tomorrow,” Hardy stated.
Passed away. Edmund scoffed. Nice way to say he threw himself off the roof. An unfortunate rising occurrence that had earned the factory its “Suicide Plant” nickname. Edmund didn’t want to admit he had often considered the same. The measly paycheck certainly was no deterrent to the thought.
At least the benefits are good.
He sighed in submission and rejoined the herd shoving its way back out to the pasture.
The orange splash across a crimson sky greeted him as he stepped back out into the color of the world. His lungs drew in the first dust-free breath and the warm hug of the simmering sun ran gentle fingers on his wrinkled skin.
The walk home each day was therapeutic. He watched the veil of night slowly drape over the city as the daylight sizzled away, each step carrying him further away from the factory.
By the time he reached his stoop his shaky knees could barely carry him upstairs, though it was better than his stiff back from the hard metal stools. He fumbled with the keys and tottered inside.
And there she was, his favorite moment of the day. Valerie rose from her faded emerald armchair, and with her cane shuffled her way towards him. He took her into his arms and held her frail stature against him. Her bandana slid and revealed the sparse tufts of chemically ravaged hair. He placed a gentle kiss on her forehead and she smiled feebly.
She would always ask him how his day was going.
“Better now,” he always replied.
Edmund gazed into her eyes, which somehow remained as youthful as the day he married her. Prior to their nuptials they made an agreement to fight for each other. Always.
For Valerie it was worth suffering the factory. As long as his health plan kept her fighting, he would battle with her. For her.
He held her close and they swayed. Edmund ignored the throbs in his feet and aches in his back, catching one good dance before it was time to do it all again tomorrow.
Gulf of Mexico Blue. Those were Her Eyes.
He only bought charcoal and ice.
“Remember our pre-nup?” she smiled, “grocery store failure is grounds for divorce.”
“Does this mean I don’t have to back to the store?”
She’d reminded him about the cookout and the steaks and how they had to have salt for the ice cream maker. But he’d forgotten. When he grabbed his keys and said he was headed to the store she asked him had he seen the dog.
“He was here a minute ago,” he’d said.
“You gotta go look for him, he’ll run away,” she said, chopping lettuce and tomatoes and dropping it into a big wooden bowl.
“Here, Sambo, here boy!” He called into the backyard and the dog appeared from around the corner.
“The gate was open. I got him inside,” he said and left for the store.
“You lock it?” she asked.
“He’ll be fine until I get back.” he said.
“Everyone will be here in about an hour,” she called as he headed for his car. A gust of wind ruffled his shirt. He rolled down the windows.
When the tornado siren sounded he turned up the music, drove a little faster.
Twenty minutes later, he was on his way home from the store with the salt.
Wind whipped street signs around in circles. A patio umbrella twirled down the street.
The sky was lake water green.
His driveway was blocked by a fallen pine tree.
He drove around it and parked sideways in his yard, with his tail lights pointed toward his neighbor’s house. With a crack of thunder, he froze for just a second, then ran when he saw his front door open, the plate glass window shattered. Shutters flapped.Shingles peeled off, flew away like frisbees. The whole house seem to be coming apart.
He yelled for her but he was drowned out by the locomotive wind and the torrents of water pouring in the front hall.
At once, the outside quieted.
He yelled again and this time his voice echoed in the hallway. The rain slowed a bit. The wind was less punishing. He walked outside, still calling her.
The neighbors walked out onto their little front porch, wide-eyed.
“Y’all okay?” she called.
“I can’t find her,” he said.
She looked at her husband and then back at him.
“Right after the siren went off, the dog got out” she said.”She asked me if I’d seen it, about thirty minutes ago.”
He walked toward the back yard.
He started to shake.
“Your car’s still running,” the neighbor yelled.
He called her again, “Cheryl!”
He heard a jingle. The dog ran around the corner and jumped on him. And he knelt down, relieved.
That’s how he saw it. The darkness shifted further, allowing sunlight to reflect from the stinging bushes. It was a locket, a tiny pocket watch on a silver chain, caught on one of the needly stinging bushes.
She hadn’t taken it from around her neck in ten years.
Bluejay feathers, broken bottles, tattered jeans and cars were strewn across three counties.
It didn’t rain again for weeks.
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