The Iron Writer Challenge #180
2017 Spring Equinox Challenge #1
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
Danielle Lee Zwissler, Paul Arden Lidberg, Matt Henderson, Mamie Pound
Monkey bars on a school playground
Working through a cold
No sleep for days
Carrying a baby
One and Only
Danielle Lee Zwissler
I sat in my living room, in the dark, remote control in hand, and my face was fallen. I haven’t had much sleep; it’s been days and now, through a haze of NetFlix and Hulu, I’d caught up with all the programming I’d ever wanted to watch or needed to finish. My throat hurt, my head was congested, my head felt like a playground, with little brown monkeys swinging to and fro through my wiring, causing me to twitch, and to be irritable.
I wanted to die.
“Joseph,” I heard my wife calling. “Joseph, it’s time to get ready.”
I don’t want to, I thought about saying, but it was no use. I had to go. I took a deep breath, coughed, then stood, feeling dizzy again.
“It’s going to be okay, you know?” my wife said, then gave me that irritating smile that said she was being hopeful. I hated that smile. I hated everything about it. She was carrying our son in her arms, and offered for me to hold him just then.
“Sure it is,” I replied, then walked toward our bedroom, and then to our closet. I pulled out my black suit that I wore for weddings, and now funerals. I walked into the adjoining bath, took a quick shower, and tried to wipe away the sickness or depression or both. It didn’t work.
Then, I walked out into the living room where my wife stood, already ready, for the first time in her life she was done before me, and wearing that same godamned smile.
“Everything okay?” she asked.
“Just peachy,” I replied.
She smirked, and we walked out the door.
Fifteen minutes later I was standing before my brother’s casket. He was an amazing dad, a good husband, and a wonderful brother. I thought of the many times he’d tie me up in the back yard while we played cowboys and Indians, or when he sat on me in the living room, and tickled me until I gave up the remote control. I thought of the fun times when we went on vacation with our parents, and when he had parties at our house without them knowing.
Now I didn’t have him. I didn’t have a sister, either. I was alone. I had a wife, a few kids, and my parents still, but soon my parents would die, and I would be the one left to bury them. I would be the one to give the eulogy, the one to deal with all the legalities, the one to put flowers on their graves.
In my head, I pulled out my gun, put it up to my mouth, and brought back the trigger, smearing blood all over the sea of black. But, in reality, I talked about him, about the things we did, and would have done, the regrets I had, and what life would be like without him. Nobody understands the death of a sibling until it happens to them. Nobody understand the effects.
© 2016 Paul Arden Lidberg
No one knows when they will get The Call. They just know they must be ready for it when it comes. At that moment, the world needs a Hero, and he cannot say “No”…
Tommy pulled the stroller along behind him, attempting to maintain his balance while holding the very baby who should be in said stroller. The other kid had already run ahead to the monkey bars, blithely ignoring anything he said in his quest for climb-induced excitement. Stupid job!
All he wanted was an easy job where he could keep going to school and study while he was being paid. After the rude shock of discovering no one would pay a stranger to house sit, he managed to find this one only to experience a second shock when he found they actually expected him to work for the money! Between keeping track of these two hellions and studying, he’d not gotten any real sleep in days!
Finally arriving at the bench, he dragged the cursed stroller up and plopped the child down in it. The little boy, startled by the sudden change in venue, then immediately started bawling. That triggered Tommy’s now well-ingrained reflex, and a binky hit the kid’s mouth almost before he’d finished his first breath. “I gotta find another job….” he said to no one in particular for the 10th time that morning.
Suddenly, there was a loud flash and a bang, quickly followed by a colorful string of loud cursing. A man in a deep blue robe and pointed hat (all covered with weird embroidered symbols), a long grey and white beard and long hair was quickly patting at himself and muttering about being on fire.
Looking up, the obviously ancient man realized he had an audience. Locking eyes with Tommy, he raised his gnarled old hand holding some kind of stick and announced “the time has come!” He looked menacing, then suddenly sneezed…”Achoo! Damn cold…”
Casting about, Tommy nervously replied “…for what??”
As a crowd formed around the two, the wizened old man said “It is time for you to return, Arthur!” The voice was deeper and more certain than one would have expected from someone that old, and this further confused the young man. All eyes shifted back to Tommy.
“My name isn’t Arthur.”
“I’m not Arthur.”
The old man seemed non-plussed. He grasped at some amulet hanging from his neck and said “But the ‘Eye’ said you were here…damn, cheap magic trinkets…Merlin, you’re getting old…” as he trailed off to muttering…”he’s supposed to be here!”
“He is. There.” Tommy pointed at the stroller.
“The baby?” Merlin looked down. “Him? But he’s not even out of diapers!” He crouched down and looked into the child’s eyes. “You’re right, it’s him. Damn watch is wrong.” He stood back up.
“Stand back” said Merlin as he used his wand to cast a spell on the toddler. Before everyone’s eyes, the baby grew into a powerful, robust, handsome man.
“Merlin, some clothes?” His deeply resonating voice was one that commanded respect.
“Oh, right.” Poof.
“Excellent, so tell me, what is so important?” He walked over to Merlin and they started to head out of the playground.
“Wait, what will I tell his mother?”
Postponed Due to Overexposure to the Elements
“I think I am getting a cold,” Megan sniffed and shivered, as she slid each of her hands inside the opposite sleeves of her jacket. Her nose was bright pink, and her eyes were watery. I slipped the hood of her jacket over her head, but before I could get it in place she shook her head back and forth and then snapped her head backward to fling it off. “You know I don’t like that,” she glared.
“You’re cute like that,” I said, “even with a red nose. You need to wear that, Meg. Let’s get you home. We’ll cut through the school yard by the drugstore, and get some vitamin C. You need mega doses before this cold sets in”
“Bite me,” she pouted, and gave a half smile. “You are a doctor now, huh?”
“Nope…never even played one on television, but I know what you need, “I said smugly.
You know what I need?” she trailed off…”interesting.”
“You need some vitamin C, a warm bath, some chicken soup…and a lot of rest. I will walk you home and make some soup. Get you tucked in.”
“That’s what I need?” she said, with a straight face, as if she were really asking…and then she laughed. “Nope, not what I need.”
“Well, maybe you are the doctor, Meg. What do you think you need?” I asked boldly; knowing I was walking on thin ice. She was my best friend, but…she was Megan. I liked her way more than friendly but I kept my mouth shut…most of the time.
“I do need to get home. If you make the soup, I will eat it. Then I have to get some work done. You have things to do, too,” she said sternly.
“It’s not worth getting pneumonia over,” I suggested.
“We won’t get pneumonia, man. I probably have some vitamin C at home. I will find it while you make the soup. You look like you need some too.”
“I do.” I said, with an incorrect and emphatic inflection. “I mean, I do?” this time with a tone suggesting surprised inquiry.
She laughed. “You are so silly sometimes! How old are you now…twelve?” She winked. “Yes! You do! You’re catching the cold, too. You’re flushed. You’re getting hoarse. That could be from talking too much.”
I didn’t feel good. I felt like I had a fever; I ached to the bone. I had a throbbing headache.
As we crossed the schoolyard, we spotted a woman leaning against the monkey bars with a baby in her arms. She looked unkempt–like she hadn’t slept for days. Megan approached her. Meg always had a smooth, graceful glide, but her stride was suddenly that of a concerned mother. She walked quickly toward the woman.
My phone buzzed. “Brian is calling me? He never calls.” I puzzled to myself…
“Everyone, huh? Jack? Arden? Oh yeah?… Even Richard? Danielle, too? Yes, I will tell her. Nope. Both of us are fine. No problems here! I hope everyone feels better soon. Later Brian,” I almost sang into the phone.
“Megan…Stop! We have an extension! Everyone is sick with this cold.” Damn elements…
The sight of him, his profile against the setting sun, washed over her like a first drink, made her forget his danger and the things she’d done.
She watched him park and enter the diner. He chose a booth in the corner.
From the wad of bills, she fished a one-hundred, stuffed it in her purse and slammed the dented car door. The bell on the glass clanged as she entered.
“Hey,” she said and slid in across from him.
He looked like he hadn’t slept in days. It suited him, somehow. The lines in his face had come to define his beauty. His eyes seemed bluer.
“Where’ve you been?” he asked.
“Big snowstorm in Asheville,” she turned the empty coffee cup over and the waitress appeared, like magic.
“You know what you want, Honey?” the cotton-candy-haired woman asked him, poured their coffee.
“Not yet,” he said. An embarrassing smile lit the waitress’s face. She lingered a beat too long and disappeared again.
“Where is it?” he whispered.
Lorelai smiled, poured a stream of white sugar into her drink.
“Ever notice how cold it is up in the mountains?” she blew into her coffee, set it on the Formica table and stirred, clanking the sides of the ceramic cup like a dull school bell.
“Where’d you get the fur?” he asked.
“Joey,” she said.
“What a loser.”
She grinned.“Why do you care?’
“You know why.” He looked at her, shook his head. Outside the window, a young boy dropped from a set of monkey bars.
“Ever regret it?” She asked. His eyes flashed back to her, then away. “I mean, the things you missed out on?”
“Sometimes.” He signaled the waitress. “But then again, painful things remind me that I’m still alive.” His eyes darted at hers, like a dare. The waitress slipped the ticket on the table.
Lorelai adjusted the white rabbit skin, to cover her bare shoulder.
His truck was almost hidden at the back of the parking lot. They climbed in.
He cranked the engine and the glass fogged.
She handed him the money.
“You’re a hundred short,” he said.
“You’ll get it in Memphis,” she lit a cigarette.
“That’s not the way it works.”
She blew a long stream of blue smoke, cracked the window just enough for it to find a way out and crossed her arms.“There’s not a whole lot you can do about it now, is there?”
He adjusted the radio and leaned close to her. The last wisps of clouds were black arrows, pointing toward the interstate.
He slipped a hand between her knees, pressed his lips to the nape of her neck.
A pregnant woman crossed in front of the truck. Lorelai watched as the man with her held the door for her, put his hand on the small of her back, ushered her into the warmth of the restaurant.
She pushed him away.
“Lorelai…,” he pulled her closer.
“I want to stay at the fancy place in Memphis,” she whispered, her watering eyes fixed on the impermeable windshield, clouded by trickster smoke and the promises of a long-ago conversation.
Sitting alone in her high school parenting class, Sally Pritchard accepted the life-like baby doll from the parenting class teacher. With smirk of sarcasm, she thought, “Oh great! All I need is this baby doll to tote around all day everywhere I go.” Half the girls in class were assigned baby dolls to care for over the next month; the other half comprised a control group in this experimental “lesson” to curb teen pregnancies.
Sally struggled to carry her books, the baby, and all the baby accoutrements through the halls to and from classes, to her locker and everywhere else she went. She was surprised to find several girls boldly approached her with a keen interest in “the baby project”. They even offered to help her carry some of the baby doll’s things. In fact, many of the other kids in school began to talk to Sally more often. Other school girls would sit with her through lunch and they offered to help her “feed” the baby doll as they bombarded her with questions. What it was like to have to care for a baby 24/7? Sally basked in their rapt attention as she described all the demanding responsibilities of “motherhood”. She told them what it was like to be “tied-to” another person at all hours, day and night, everywhere she went, never any time to herself. She described getting no sleep for days when the baby cried all night, how the baby still had to be cared for even when she was fighting off a cold, and how she and her family pulled together to work around a schedule of the demanding responsibilities a baby brought with it. Changing diapers, feeding the baby on schedule, and laying it down for naps — it all took on a new perspective of enormous proportions.
When the month was over, all the baby dolls were returned. Sally’s life returned to “normal”. Once again, she was left to eat lunch by herself, drift aimlessly through the halls on swirling currents of social interactions, ride the noisy school bus home in a cocoon of silent solitude, and hover around the house ignored as if she was an invisible ghost.
Months went by; Sally was rarely seen around school. She had stopped eating lunch in the lunch room. She walked home alone, by herself, instead of riding the bus, and she stayed in the house most of the time. However, no one seemed to miss her.
Months later, some of the high school girls were hanging around the familiar old monkey bars on the kids’ playground near the high school when Sally walked up. They all went quiet for a moment once they saw her standing there. She was showing a definite “stomach” pressing against her blouse. In shock and amazement, they gathered around to fawn and dote over her, the way “friends” do. Sally smiled and basked in their attentiveness as they all wanted to touch her baby belly.
She had made the right decision … hadn’t she?