The Iron Writer Challenge #177
2016 Autumn Equinox Challenge Championship
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
A kid playing a banjo to a dog
A life in danger
Richard North Patterson Bracket
Mamie Pound, Geoff Gore, Phil Blaiklock, Alis Van Doorn
Deserted Life with Stars
The van was parked in front of the school, one wheel on the sidewalk. Early morning sunlight shone through the enormous glazed doughnut mounted on top.
“Ever wish you could just run away?” she asked, arranging cruellers.
“Nah,” he said, opened box of cream-filled.
“Never?” she watched him align styrofoam cups on the gymnasium table.
He shook his head. “Donna’s great.”
“I’m not talking about freakin’ Donna,” she hissed. He pushed his glasses up and looked at her. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.
“I’m bored out of my mind,” she said.
“Why don’t you change jobs?” he asked, straightening his shirt.
“Why don’t you change jobs?” she mocked him with the voice she reserved for her sister.
He looked at her.
“My doctor gave me this pill, helps keep me calm.” He dug in his pocket, held up a tiny white pill. “With insurance, they’re three dollars each.”
She dug in her purse. The little bottle was half empty. She poured it into her coffee.
“Hey!” he looked around. A couple of sixth graders faced them from the bleachers.“Not cool.”
“Rob, I’ve got a joint in my purse. You’re gonna go out back and smoke it with me.”
The sixth grade teacher approached.
“Mrs. Whitman, may I make you a drink?” Nancy grinned.
Rob rolled his eyes.
“Golly, no. I’ve had two cappuccinos, already,” she smiled. “The talent show is starting, a banjo-dog act. So, we need to hurry.”
“Sure,” Nancy said, chugged the coffee.
The teacher walked away.
“Are you kidding me?” Rob said.
“Nobody said it was going to be like this, Rob.”
“It was in the catering order.”
“I don’t mean the cater, Rob. I mean life.”
“You’re acting crazy. Life is fine,” he said.
“Yeah, fine. If you like a field of neutered dreams. I want to float the Ganges, hang out in Katmandu, sleep in the desert.”
“Kind of risky,” he said.
“We are 45. Even if we live to be really old, it’s half over. We are coordinating powdered sugar and lemon-filled.”
“I need the insurance.”
“Then what, Rob? Prescription drugs, 25 more years of house payments and our teeth fall out?”
“I’m perfectly happy,” he said, crossed his arms.
“Really? I thought you always wanted to sleep in the Atacama, too?”
He smiled, stared out the gymnasium window.“You can see more stars there, than anywhere else on earth. But, it’s too late for all that.”
“So, you’re satisfied, a carcass of your former self, an empty cup, blowing across a school yard?” she said.
From nowhere, the teacher appeared. “Excuse me? We’re not paying you people to talk.” Her smile widened for emphasis.
Rob unloaded all the little milks on a table. Nancy waited in the van.
“Feel better?” he asked, slamming the passenger door.
“Soon enough.” She steered the van past school buses, onto the interstate, turned up the radio.
“I always thought the Clash should’ve made one more album.”
“Yeah,” he said.
The gigantic glazed doughnut disappeared south along the highway, right past their exit.
Smaller and smaller, until it seemed like just another day.
My name is Richard D’Angelo. Good folks call me Ricky, but the bad ones call me Dick and not because they like me. Most people don’t like me. That’s ok though, cos the bad people go away. I don’t know where they go exactly. They just go. Mom says people don’t like me cos I think different, on account of my disorder. She says I’ve got a special talent, but that doesn’t explain why so many people end up going away. Except Buddy, Buddy never goes away. He’s my friend. That’s why I called him Buddy. Buddy likes it when I play my banjo to him. Even my special tune, the one that makes the bullies disappear.
I remember the first time Buddy arrived at our house. Daddy had been drinking heavy and I remember him coming home late & getting all riled up ‘bout not being able to afford to feed us, let alone takin in stray dogs. There was hollering coming from downstairs. He and Mom was yelling at each other. Then there was a ‘whack’ and next thing I remember, was seeing Mom lying on the floor with her mouth bleeding and Dad standing over her reaching for one of his golf clubs. I never stopped to consider that maybe her life was in danger. Something just made me pick up my old banjo and start playing. Daddy went away after that.
Look at him, that weird kid from that place on the hill. Sitting there playing that damn banjo like he owns the place. Him and that mange ridden mutt. Just sitting there. Jesus why can’t he shut that thing up? Must be the most unholy sound I’ve ever heard in my entire life. Local council’s got limits against that sort of stuff, right?
“Hey! Peckerhead!” I yell to him as I cross the road. I’ll shut that creepy little jerk up, scare him good so he never comes back round here again. Maybe I’ll smash that damn demonic noise maker over his crazy little head. But as I get closer he just sits and stares and keeps playing that infernal banjo. There’s something about that tune. Kinda hypnotic. All of a sudden I don’t really feel like bashing his little head in no more. I feel kinda drowsy, like I’m…floating. But underneath, it feels kinda creepy. And the whole time that crazy mutt of his has got its eyes focused, its stare never leaving mine. Then without warning the kid stops playing that tune. That tune. That’s when I really noticed the red glow in that dog’s eyes. It starts to growl. Guttural, like something…supernatural. I can’t stop staring into that red light right in its eyes. I get this cold feeling, like my insides have frozen. I’ve heard other people describe that feeling, like when a dying man is bleeding out. And there’s that light in that mutts eyes. And that tune. I try to scream. But nothing’s there anymore. It’s like…I’m gone.
I changed to that crappy station. Some kid was playing a banjo to a dog, in grainy black and white. The only other interesting channel I got was home shopping.
I’d been wallowing on the couch for hours, and really needed a shower. But that whole standing up straight part hurt like hell.
I propped myself up enough to glance out the window. I hoped my rich ‘neighbor’ across the street was gone for the day. But no. His yellow Porsche was still parked on his 37th floor roof, reminding me how badly I’d screwed up my life.
I reached for the Oxycontin on my coffee table. Doctor’s limit was two a day. This was number two. At least I had that discipline.
A flash of white light blinded me and knocked me back. A tall man materialized. His bald head was silver, his suit was silver, his everything was silver. He pensively tapped his head, then pointed at me. “Your life is in danger.”
“Who … who are you?”
He took a drink from a flask in his other hand. He sniffed. “Your blanket smells terrible.”
“That’s the thing. You’re overweight but healthy. Your soul is dying.”
“I must be dreaming,” I said, reaching for the Oxy. He swatted me away. “No. This is the day you stop running.”
“Running? Do you even know why I’m injured?”
“You had a forklift accident working at Costco. You backed into a tower of Act-II Popcorn, which fell on you.” He paused, took a long swig. “Nobody knows it was your fault.”
I sat up, feeling a stab of pain. “How did you kno—”
“I’m a silver man from the astral plane, you idiot. I’m reading your mind. Why was it your fault?”
“Because … ” I felt so guilty. “I knew my boss wanted to talk, and I saw him walking up while I was working the lift. I thought he had bad news. I panicked.”
Silver man took another swig. “Ahhh, yes.”
“Are you talking to me, or the bottle? What’s in that anyway?”
“Mind your business.”
“Then maybe you should too.” Somehow, someway, I stood up to this bully. “Get the hell out of my apartment!” I cried, fighting excruciating pain.
Silver man smiled. “Better. Much better. For once in your life you’ve stood up for yourself. Now, go do something you love— wait a minute.” He looked away and tapped his forehead again. “Really?” A golden scroll materialized in his other hand. He opened it and read. “Damn. I have the wrong block.”
He folded the scroll away. “Sorry dude. Ignore everything I said.” And with that, he vanished.
I looked around in a frenzy. I looked out the window. Silver man materialized in front my neighbor’s yellow Porsche.
I’d been standing the whole time. My back didn’t hurt as much. I thought a while. I grabbed my cane, and took the elevator down. For the first time in months, I stood outside. The sun hit my face, and I smiled.
I hailed a cab and asked for the nearest music store selling banjos.
Alis Van Doorn
Fortescue watched as the world flew by, afternoon fading into dusk, the clickity clack train sound soothing, unnerving. Pulling Finley close, he buried his face in Finley’s soft neck ruff. His stomach rumbled, he felt Finley give a shiver, whine softly
“How ‘bout supper, Finn, then the music of vagabonds and tramps?”
Finn barked his agreement to this excellent plan. Forty pulled out two sandwiches, carefully tore one in half, gave it to Finn, and they devoured their meager supper. Companionably splitting a bottle of water, they felt, if not full, much more cheerful.
Forty began to strum his banjo; he was learning, teaching himself and Finley howled along. Soon both runaways were fast asleep.
Suddenly the train screeched to a halt. Fortescue, waking, went on high alert, worried they had been discovered.
Finn, who hadn’t uttered a peep, gave him an indignant look. They ooched themselves back into the far corner of the boxcar, which limited visibility, but seemed safer.
The train began to move, and as both relaxed, a large dark shadow appeared and their empty boxcar shuddered and vibrated. Finley and Fortescue froze.
“Who’s there?” a deep, melodious voice demanded, at odds with the harshness in its tone.
Fortescue swallowed, tried to deepen his voice, said “Just Boxcar Forty, Sir and his Vicious Canine Companion.” Finn growled menacingly.
“What’s this vicious animal called?” asked the still shadowy stranger.
“Finley William Smith, Sir.”
Fortescue thought he heard smothered laughter from the direction of the dark shadow.
“Quite a distinguished civilized name for such a vicious beast.”
“Well, two names are family names. And he’s only vicious with bad people. Otherwise he’s quite a gentleman.” Finley sniffed in agreement.
“And your name?”
Fortescue stiffened. “I told you. It’s Forty, Sir.
“So, Forty William Smith, then?” said the stranger gently.
“Fortescue William Smith.” mumbled Forty.
“Well, as it happens, my name is also William. Tell me how you and Finley happen to be riding this boxcar, all alone.”
Forty held Finn tight, and said in one rush of breath “We’re orphanage kids, no parents, they’re dead, I’m bullied at school cause of my name, I’m an orphan, my clothes are too small an’ I just reached my limit. Nobody wants us, we’ve run away to find luck and fortune.”
“I see.” said William quietly.
Forty, Finn looked into a weathered face, tempered by intelligence, kindness. Finn, satisfied, curled up close to Forty.
William said “You’ve been brave, courageous, but your lives are in danger. This is my railroad line, I’m riding this boxcar to catch a dangerous man, who’s been using this rail line, traveling between towns. There’s reason to believe he’ll be hopping this very car, next stop. Had you been here alone, you wouldn’t have left this boxcar alive.
Hours later, a murderer led away handcuffed, limping, yelling about a hound of hell, Finn and Forty sleeping, William woke them, asked “How’d you like to go home?’
Finley barked a “yes, please!” Forty looked up doubtfully.
“I’ve called the orphanage, talked to the director. You’re staying with me. Both of you. You’re home now”
Fortescue and Finley William Smith howled with happiness.