The Iron Writer Challenge #162
2016 Spring Solstice Open, Preliminary Round
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
D. Lee Cox, M. D. Pitman, Richard Russell, Emmy Gatrell
A Sky balloon festival
A Bow and a single arrow
As I cut the wheel and parked, gravel sprayed the bottom step of the dilapidated cabin. It always had looked like something out of a redneck horror show and still did. The tin roof was rusty, windows had new papers and foil covering them, the porch was falling apart and had a moldy couch and rocking chairs adorning it, the entire house tilted to the left and looked like it would fall over in a stiff breeze.
“So kind of you to take the day off to help, Matt.” Luis stepped out onto the porch and let the old screen door slam behind him.
“I don’t work on Saturday’s.”
“I should have figured you wouldn’t take a day off to help your family.”
“My job is keeping this family afloat.”
“I can’t have a job because I’m the only one taking care of our mother.”
“You don’t have a job because you don’t want one.”
Luis glared, crossed his arms over his chest, and changed the subject, “I stashed the weapons but I couldn’t find her bow and arrows.”
“It’s okay. I broke almost all the arrows when she shot me in the leg last Thanksgiving. I couldn’t break the bow or the arrow; Dad made them for her.”
“Well, that’s just great,” Luis replied sarcastically.
“What damage could she possibly do with a bow and a single arrow?”
“We’re talking about our mother.”
“Point taken. We better find it.” I cringed when I saw the first multi-colored hot air balloon come into view. “Who is it this year?”
He smiled, “You’re going love it. I told you not to get her cable.”
“Matt!” My mother ran from the back the cabin screaming, her worn floral mumu flying behind her like a cape, “They’re coming!”
“No one is—” I grunted as she hit me like a linebacker.
She pushed me to the other side of the car, peeked over the hood, and pointed to the sky, “They’re invading. Coming for our jobs and women. The people on Fox News warned us this would happen.”
“Fox News is just trash talk. No one is invading, those balloons are from the hot air balloon festival in Albuquerque.”
“Liberal,” she shook her head. “How else will they get over the wall?”
“Who’s trying to get over what wall?”
“The Mexicans,” she whispered dramatically.
I managed to keep a straight face, “We’re Mexican.”
“If we were Mexican we’d be eating tacos for lunch and not hot dogs.”
I blinked a couple of times, “That might be the craziest thing you’ve ever said.”
“Now who’s trash talking?” She looked up at the sky filling with balloons and shook her head, “I need to find my bow.” Then began army crawling to the barn.
“Better follow; she still has great aim. I’ll make lunch.”
“Hot dogs again?”
He shrugged, “Yep.”
“I hate hot dogs.” He smiled and shrugged then I ran to beat Mama to the barn.
And Then One Day
Jack slowly pulled up to the gate of the fairgrounds and handed the attendant his entry form. The attendant took the form, “Gonna be a humdinger of a balloon festival this year, bud. We’ve got more entries this year than ever before, and the weather looks to be about perfect.”
Jack kind of smirked unenthusiastically. “That’s great,” he said in a monotone mumble.
“You don’t seem to be very excited about it,” the attendant responded.
Jack sighed, “Yeah, well, it just seems like an awful lot of trouble these days.”
“Oh, I see,” mused the attendant, “Kind of depressed, are we?”
“Yeah, I guess. Maybe I ought to just go back home.”
“Yeah, maybe… but seein’ as you’re already here with your gear and all …
Tell you what; I’m just gonna waive your entry fee and let you in for free.”
Jack’s eyes widened a bit. “Seriously?”
“Just git on in there and get your gear set up. You’re running a little late…. And have a nice day!”
Jack found a space to park out in the field and began to unload his balloon. It really was a nice day. He looked around at the other balloonists as they were setting up. They all seemed to have other people with them. One team wore matching shirts and hats; another couple argued over something; others with picnic lunches set out looked to simply enjoy the day. Suddenly feeling hungry, Jack wandered over to the kiosk.
A woman in the window chirped, “What’ll it be?”
Jack nonchalantly replied, “Gimme a cheese burger.”
The woman pressed, “Is that all? Just a cheese burger? You want fries? … a drink?”
Jack rolled his eyes and, for the first time, he really looked at her. She was quite attractive. “Uh ….. sure. Why not?”
She smiled, “Okay then. You entered in the balloon festival?”
“Yeah, that’s me over there with the green pick-up. I guess I’d better get set up; looks like I’m a little behind schedule.”
Handing him his food, the woman said, “I’m Sue… and you are…?”
“Nice to meet you, Jack.”
Fifteen minutes later, Jack was hurrying to get his balloon set up when Sue came over.
“You’d better hurry up,” she fretted. “Can I lend you a hand?”
A little surprised, Jack responded, “I could use all the help I can get.”
The two worked seamlessly together as if they had been together their whole lives.
Just as all the balloons were taking off, the “hot dogs” with the matching shirts hollered, “Where’d you get that old wicker relic, dude? You inherit that from your grandmother?”
Sue hollered back, “Shut yer pie-hole, dork!”
Then she climbed into the basket with Jack, “Let’s show ’em how it’s done.”
When they were well under way, Jack had a moment to relax. As he watched Sue look out over the countryside, Cupid drew his bow and pierced Jack’s heart with a single, well-placed arrow.
Vengeance is the Judge’s
M. D. Pitman
Bruce and Peter were the best hot air balloon pilots in the country. But the one-time best friends are now rivals and the Mid-Town Hot Air Balloon Festival and Challenge is the most competitive in the country. Peter’s won it five straight times… until last year. Bruce’s prank opened the door for him to win, and a repeat would guarantee his place in the Ballooning Hall of Fame.
But Peter won’t let Bruce pull another prank. His basket still reeks of hot dogs and spotted with ketchup and mustard stains.
Bruce strolled by Peter’s balloon, which this year is stitched with Robin Hood drawing an arrow with a bow. With a mouth full of a hot dog, Bruce loudly muffled, “Want a bite?” He held up a half-eaten foot-long dog, oozing ketchup and mustard onto his fingers. A few drops splashed onto a dirt spot in the patchy grass field.
“Jerk,” Peter whispered, glaring at the black-haired doughy man who couldn’t keep food in his mouth as he bellowed.
Peter stifled that laughter when he pulled out a bow.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “Purely for show.” Peter was unconvincing. He smiled as he pulled out a quiver of arrows. He slung both over a shoulder.
Bruce stared slack-jawed at Peter who pantomimed drawing a bow toward his balloon. The now pale-faced man scurried to his balloon three spots away.
Bruce called on who appeared to be a judge. The ensuing conversation didn’t look friendly. Shaking his head, the judge walked over toward Peter.
A couple steps away the judge cocked his head with a funny look on his face as he smelled the air. “Is that stale hot dog?”
Peter grimaced at the memory. “Yes … it is.” He exhaled a defeated sigh. “That guy you were talking to filled my basket last year with hot dogs.”
“I remember that,” the judge said with a smile, which vanished as Peter glared. “Was wondering who did that. Figures it was Bruce.”
Peter flashed a quizzical glance. “You know Bruce, um…”
“Johnny. We go a ways back.” He closed his eyes appearing to reflect on a memory. “If I wasn’t a Christian man, I’d have a few choice words. Calling him a jerk is an understatement.”
“And you’re a judge?”
“Not for the challenge. For the balloon glow tonight.”
Johnny began to walk away but paused and turned. He walked close and whispered, “You know if you do decide to shoot fire off an arrow, I’ll ditch the evidence.” He winked.
Peter gave it a hard thought. “Tempting, but I better pass.”
“Well, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed if something does happen. Right?”
“It wouldn’t hurt my feelings.” Peter laughed at the sarcastic gesture. “Karma and all.”
The next morning as Bruce unpacked his balloon to inflate it for the challenge, Peter saw him flail his arms and heard barely audible screams. They were not words children and church-goers should hear. He then saw two raccoons escape through one of the balloon’s several holes.
At the judge’s tent 20 feet away, one of Johnny’s hands was heavily bandaged. Peter caught his eye. He winked and smiled.
Momma Wants a Balloon
D. Lee Cox
Patricia Kreis was getting on in years. Her long auburn locks had given way to gray and white, yet she still held it back with a tortoise shell headband sporting blue hydrangeas.
She sat at a cherry meeting table, picking at her Sneaky Pete’s slaw dog. She wore a peace sign button over one breast covered in a faded Pepsi tee-shirt.
Boyd Maynard, a thirty-something trust manager, sat in his office just off the meeting room. A hand on his brow, a thin waft of strawberry blonde hair barely cutting the shine from his pate.
“Becky, I cant do this. I didnt go to Dartmouth to deal with witches like this. Cant you just tell her I’m out of the office?”
“Mr. Maynard, that’s just unprofessional. In fact, I’m pretty sure she saw you run behind my cubicle when you saw her come in.”
“BOYD! Momma wants a BALLOON! Get in here!”
Becky smiled. “You heard her – Momma awaits!”
Maynard flung himself forward, gathered up manila folders, and shuffled into the conference room.
“Good afternoon, Ms. Kreis. How can I hel….”
“Boyd, I need a balloon. A big ass balloon. One of them balloons what sails the skies with pretty colors and a helluva fire underneath. I’m entering the balloon race next month.”
“The All-State Regional Championship?”
“Thats the one, by jiminy!”
“Son, I have a mighty hefty portfolio there. If you wish to continue managing this account, you’ll call me ‘Momma Pat’.”
Maynard pursed his lips. Let out a breath.
“Momma Pat, you’re eighty nine years old…”
“You were born in 1927.”
“Twenty nine, it was a typo”
A long sigh.
“Ma’am, you cant possibly learn to pilot a hot-air balloon by mid-July. My grandfather is in that race and he’s been flying for decades.”
“I know. That’s why I’m entering the race.”
“I… I beg your pardon?”
“Your grandpa, he stood me up for the bingo last week. He’s a lyin’, no-good, sumbitch and I intend to beat his ass at the balloon race.”
“Ma’am, my grandfather has won hundreds of hot air balloon races. You cant possibly think you’d beat him…”
“I can, and I will. Now you just cut me a check for two-hundred fifty thousand dollars.”
“You want $250 thousand dollars for what?”
“I’m buyin a balloon and I’m staking Terrell Sturdivent to pilot it.”
“Terrell Sturdivent? I thought he was dead.”
“No. Not dead. Drunk? Yes. Dead? No. But I’ll have him sobered up and ready to whoop your grandpas wrinkly old ass next month!”
“Ma’am, I cant possibly condone the use of your money like this. This is an enormous amount for shear folly.”
“Son, you will cut me that check, and you will cut it immediately. I will be there in my own fancy balloon when they shoot that flamin’ arrow to start the race or you, sir, will be in a strip mall doin taxes for free for a livin’.”