The Iron Writer Challenge #162
2016 Spring Solstice Open, Preliminary Round
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
G. L. Dearman, Mamie Pound, Keith Badowski, Michael Cottle
A Sky balloon festival
A Bow and a single arrow
Hearts and Arrows
“I got a bad feeling about this, Otis,” Dale said, untethering the ropes.”Stealing a hot-air balloon is probably a felony.Plus, remember what you promised your mama.”
“Dale, have you ever been in love?” Otis asked.
“Well Christie and I were together a while,” Dale said.
“She was a tramp.”
““Hey!” Dale yelled.
“Look, Dale, all I’m saying is that Christie wasn’t your one true love. Right? I mean did she keep you awake at night, could you think of nothing more than her lips, her eyes…,” Otis asked.
“Well, actually,” Dale replied.
“No, Dale. Your true love will take your very breath away. She will be only yours and you hers,” he said.
The stars appeared above, one by one, lighting the constellations.
“Otis, why didn’t we just drive over?”
“Anybody can drive over,” Otis said. “You see that guy right there?” He pointed toward a group of stars. “That’s Sagittarius. And guess what?”
“He has a single magic arrow. He walks the sky, searching for his true love.”
“Kinda like you,” Dale said.
“Exactly,” said Otis.
“See, one day, Zeus looked down from his mountain and saw Sagittarius moping around. He said, ‘Sagittarius, why don’t you have a date to the dance?’ Old Sagittarius shrugged, whined about being misunderstood and Zeus laughed, roared actually. Shook the sky and whatnot. So Zeus says, ‘I’ll tell you what. I have a magic arrow here. And any woman you hit with it will fall madly in love with you’. Now, Sagittarius was a procrastinator. Kinda like you, Dale. Zeus knew this about Sagittarius, too. So, as he was leaving the mountain, Zeus says, ‘whatever you do, don’t wait too long, or you’ll never shoot it’. And you know what Sagittarius did?
“What?” Dale asked.
“He walked the earth so long, waiting for the perfect girl to shoot that they all turned into stars.” Otis looked at him.
“What are you trying to say, Otis?”
“I’m saying, this hot air balloon is our arrow. We have to aim it and hit something before it’s too late. Comprende’, Dale, mi compadre?”
“I mean, yeah, but last time,” Dale began.
“Dale, have you ever cheated death?” he put an arm around Dale and squeezed him closer.
“Remember that time we ate those chicken salad sandwiches from the 7-11?” he began.
“No, man, I mean, have you ever set out, on purpose, knowing that you might die but the result was so important to you that you did not care?” Otis asked.
“Guess not,” Dale said. “But I hate that holding cell. And plus, your mama….”
“Shhhhhhh.” Otis reached into his bag. “Hot Dog?”
The balloon sailed above the suburb, brushed the tree tops and caught an easterly wind.
“You gotta have faith, man,” Otis said, digging for mustard.
“Have you ever even met her, though?”
“It’s all about the first impression,” Otis said. “Trust me.”
Sagittarius stood, arrow-ready, as the air-ship disappeared against a climbing moon.
The sun was melted like crayons on wax paper, tangerine, red-orange and dandelion, across a blue-violet sky.
A silhouette appeared, blocking Aaron Lardowski’s path in the dim light of dawn.
“Time to prove it was beginner’s luck, Lard-ASS-ski.”
Without seeing his face, Aaron knew it was Billy Delano. Not only did Billy ride Aaron’s bus, he was in his homeroom class and Cub Scout den.
A few yards behind Billy was an illuminated and inflated hot air balloon, the envelope patterned with squares every color of the rainbow. Aaron wished he hadn’t wandered from his parents who were clear across the field helping friends prepare their balloon for flight. Aaron also knew if Billy’s father was nearby, he wouldn’t be offering any help.
On Tuesday at the Pack meeting, Billy’s father, their Den Leader, kept his entire focus on grilling the hot dogs even though he was within earshot of Billy’s trash talk at the archery target. When Aaron fumbled the arrow while drawing back the string, Billy grabbed the bow out of Aaron’s hands.
“Let me show you how it’s done,” Billy said, the corner of his mouth turned up, emphasizing the puckered scar on his cheek where a dog had bitten him.
He rapidly loaded, and his shot went wild, missing the target entirely.
“Let’s see you do better, Lardass!”
Aaron positioned his arrow, drew back the string and released. The arrow struck the target, dead center.
Billy was infuriated, saying, “Beginner’s luck—that’s all. The next time you’ll hit your own foot. I bet you suck so bad you couldn’t even hit the side of one of those hot air balloons at the festival.”
Confrontations like this caused Aaron to have a sinking feeling in his stomach every time Cub Scouts rolled around. He would much rather be home, lounging on his bed, reading a Star Wars comic book.
Billy’s voice rose again from the dark, “Unless you want the whole school to know just how much of a lard ass coward you are, you’ll take the shot.”
He held out a bow and one arrow.
“Come on. This is crazy, Billy,” Aaron said. “It’s destructive. And if I hit it, they’d be stuck on the ground and would probably make me pay for it.”
“Lame excuses, Lardo! Take the shot or you’ll regret it,” Billy sneered.
With no way to avoid Billy here or anywhere, Aaron accepted the bow and arrow.
With bumbling effort, Aaron positioned the arrow, drew back the string and aimed at the balloon looming behind Billy. How he hoped some adult would notice what he was doing and shout for him to stop.
“Now or never, Lardass!” Billy taunted.
Aaron swiveled on his heels, pointing the arrow directly at Billy.
“Whoa! Get that thing out of my face!”
“If you’re so sure it was just beginner’s luck, why not? I’m bound to miss, aren’t I?” Aaron said.
“Yeah but . . .”
Aaron adjusted his aim and let the arrow fly.
Billy screamed, hopping in circles on one foot. The arrow protruded from the tip of his other foot.
Of course now adults came running from all directions.
Aaron dropped the bow, pretty sure he was through with Cub Scouts forever.
G. L. Dearman
Every morning, Sara watched the balloons ascend, and imagined how it must feel to float away and leave the world behind. After dark, the tethered balloons glowed from within, turning the launch field into a wonderland—the sort of sight she’d imagined when she’d run away to drift around the country with Jeremy in a hot dog truck. It was beautiful enough to make her reconsider going home. But she couldn’t change her mind, not after calling mother and begging her to wire money for a bus ticket.
She still hadn’t figured out how she was going to tell Jeremy.
“We’ll barely break even,” he grumbled, assembling an order for a rare mid-afternoon customer. “Nobody’s buying. It’s sad when an American can’t sell hot dogs in his own country.” He glowered at the crowd milling around the Garcias’ taco truck.
Sara shrugged. “We’re practically in Mexico. Sales will improve next week, at the North Florida Fair.”
“Why the hell did they decide to put this festival in a godforsaken dump like Albuquerque?”
“The Albuquerque box,” the customer said. Below his Stetson hat and drooping mustache, a badge identified him as balloon crew.
“What?” Jeremy scowled at him.
The customer took his food. “It’s a wind pattern. The winds in this valley take balloons in a big square. Take off from here in the morning, and land in the same spot in the afternoon.” He tipped his hat at Sara before he left.
The jaunty strains of a Tejano accordion blared from the Garcias’ speakers. The Garcia children weaved through the crowd, giggling and shooting each other with foam-tipped arrows launched from toy bows.
Jose Garcia leaned out his truck’s window and waved a fat wad of greenbacks in Jeremy’s direction. “Hey, pendejo! This is what money looks like, in case you forgot.”
Jeremy’s middle finger shot up. “Go back to Mexico!”
Garcia’s belly shook with laughter. “No one wants your hot dogs here. You couldn’t sell that to starving Ethiopians!”
The smallest Garcia boy took aim at his father’s adversary. Sara watched the toy arrow arc above the crowd. She opened her mouth to warn Jeremy, but too late. As he leaned forward to shout a retort, the arrow struck him in the eye.
“Son of a—” Veins bulged from Jeremy’s forehead. He reached for the cash box—and the Colt revolver inside it.
“Honey, no.” Sara grabbed his shoulder. “It’s not worth it.”
He spit out the window.
“Things will be better in Tallahassee. We can leave today if you want. Just please calm down.”
He swallowed and nodded. In a small voice, like a child’s, he said, “The world sucks, but at least we got each other.”
She smiled at him.
He shoved most of the cash into his pocket. “Watch the truck.” He headed toward the end of Vendor’s Row, where beer cost $12 a cup.
No way she could leave now; he couldn’t cope. He needed her. Maybe she could slip away after the North Florida Fair, if sales were good.
Through the truck window, she watched balloons settle to earth on the same field they’d left that morning.
Zeno and Sparky
As a traveler of space and time, Zeno was a force to be reckoned with- or at least that was what he reckoned. Most recently, spending his mornings walking around with dinosaurs and dodo birds. This was in contrast to the futuristic places he had been and did not like. The future was uncertain, and of that much, at least Zeno was certain.
Zeno had only one friend that never talked trash or annoyed him too much. It was his dog, Sparky. He had found the mutt long ago in a remote desert. Sparky was alone in the hot sun and no water in sight. Zeno thought, “Well, if this was the artic, he’d be a chili dog.”
So, Sparky was Zeno’s best friend- the only one to remain constant in Zeno’s shifting worlds. They travelled light to go so far. Sparky with his futuristic shades that were custom made for beagles. And Zeno with his hickory bow and a single arrow.
They spent their days searching for paradoxes. Yes, paradoxes would lead the two to the arch-demon, Thagar. Thagar traversed the galaxies the same as Zeno and Sparky. Well, except of course that Thagar travelled to his destinations in half-distances. He could virtually never stop travelling and never go anywhere at the same time!
Thagar changed his destination often, and so he really did travel well for an old demon. But one evening, Zeno and Sparky felt the scent of his presence closer than ever.
“Did you hear that Sparky?” Zeno inquired. “I hear a single drop of water!”
Sparky gazed at Zeno, and tilted his head to the side.
“There’s a creek nearby!” Zeno shouted.
Sparky barked a vicious bark- well vicious for beagles anyway.
Zeno took off running through the trees with hickory bow and arrow in hand. Sparky followed him, barking excitedly. Soon they reached a creek. Zeno drank deeply. Sparky lapped up several mouthfuls as well. The quiet single drop of water had vanished in the busy bubbling of the creek. Many would not recognize the paradox, but Zeno knew it. Saw it. Devoured it!
They rehydrated and started walking west. And there they saw the colorful entities rising in the distant sky. It was the largest hot air balloon festival ever!
“Come Sparky!” Zeno was ecstatic with eyes wide open. “We take down the arch-demon tonight!”
Zeno ran towards the balloons at full speed with Sparky on his heels. He found a good position on the ground, and knocked the arrow in his bow. The arrow flew through the air, and went through a large circle on the side of a bright blue balloon and stuck in the opposite side. The balloon swirled around erratically until the operator was able to land it safely in a nearby field.
“Damn it Sparky!” Zeno said. “I’ve shot the wrong balloon. The arrow would have never actually reached Thagar’s balloon.”
Zeno was committed to the psychiatric ward for the doctors say that he invented false realities. They also said Sparky would not bark. But on a quiet night, when there was a paradox nearby, Sparky would bark.