The Iron Writer Challenge #52
2013 Iron Writer Spring Equinox Challenge #2
A High Diving Horse
Lake of Sherbet
Angela Yuriko Smith
The horse and rider were not from the desert. They protested it with blistered skin that cracked under the sun’s relentless onslaught. They stood at a cliff’s edge, squinting against the horizon, looking for salvation in a glimmer of moisture. There was none. Hell was all around, a fiery furnace of sand and pain.
He squeezed his eyes closed to not lose one precious tear to the greedy dust. As if his horse could read his thoughts, it dropped its head limply and stood, lightly swaying on shaking legs. “I think this is it, girl.” His words came out as a puff of moist thought, instantly evaporating against the fiery decent of the sun. “Our last night…”
Thoughts convulsed in a whir of memory tinged with the unnatural brilliance of hallucination. His wife waited in Paris for news, his small daughters giggling as they tried to stuff chocolates in his mouth at another sunset far away overlooking a house by a lake. The rose and gold melted into the water. They had laughed and said they lived on a lake of sherbet. He would never again see his little angels dancing on the shore as he sang “Down in the Valley” to them.
Something against the horizon caught his eye. A black smudge was growing across the horizon, blotting out the sun. A haboob, he’d heard the tent dwellers call it. A traveling wall of sand that scoured the desert clean of life, a haboob was something to outrun or hide from. Neither he, nor his near dead horse, were capable. He thought back to his last words and his lips cracked into a grim smile. A last night would have been a luxury. These were the last minutes.
He looked up in a plea for life, searching the sky for some divine hand that could deliver him. The sky overhead was darkening as the sun slipped beneath the horizon, a deep and tender blue that beckoned to him with the first glimmer of stars. How he wished then he could be there, a jetman sailing among the cool clouds, traveling back to his girls. No more lust for adventure coursed through his blood – dehydration had seen to that. If only…
His eyes traveled back to the storm, a terrifying behemoth that waited to engulf them. “Not on your terms, but mine,” he thought, and he drove his heels into the horse’s panting flanks. Surprised, it started forward, stepping off the cliff and into the air. For a moment they were sailing the sky, finally free of the sand that had sapped their strength over the last two days. His eyes turned towards heaven as he fell, his hands reaching out, as his horse used the last of its breath to scream.
“Angels in heaven know I love you…” he sang to the woman and two girls who were lost to him forever as he plummeted past red rock. Below him, a lake of sherbet waited.
Hang Your Head Low
Danielle Lee Zwissler
Thorton Wild took his knife and made small cuts on the man’s arm in front of him. He watched as the blood pebbled and he sang softly. “Down in the Valley…”
“Please, please, just let me go; you don’t want to do this!”
Thornton’s eyes were wild and he spoke with an edge in his voice, “You think you can come up here, Jetman, and steal this!” he said pointing to his head. “You want the secrets, you want them like the rest of them do!”
“No, no, I don’t—I was just… I just wanted to see above the mountain. That’s all, man, that’s all!”
“Shut up!” Thorton yelled; his hands came up to his head and he rocked himself slowly back and forth. “Just shut up!”
The man in the chair started to cry. “Please, please.”
“What did I tell you, Jetman! I told them years ago when I got out of the military to just leave me alone.” Thorton stood up, knife now fully embedded in the man’s skin. Sweat bubbled on his forehead. “Stand up!”
“I’m going to show you something that I built. I made it special for someone just like you.”
“What do you mean?” the man asked fearfully.
“Ever see that movie about the diving horse?”
“I don’t understand,” the man said as Thorton walked him up the dark path in the woods outside his home and further up the mountain.
“Oh, it’s just up ahead. I make platforms, tall ones.” Thorton started humming the tune once more. “Late in the evenin’ hear the train blow…”
“Down in the valley, the valley so low,” Thorton continued, half whistling, half singing the tune. The man in front trembled as Thorton pushed him up toward the platform. It was much smaller than the ones in the movie, it only had one trap that could fall, but that was perfect enough for what he was going to use it for. He took the man and lined him up on the top platform and then reached behind him on the plank where a long rope was sitting in a box. He pulled it out and looped it through a ring attached to a pole above him. It reminded him of a hangman’s post.
“Please, please,” the man begged louder, “Please!”
Thorton looped the rope around the man’s neck and secured it with two knots and then stepped down the platform, still singing the words to Birmingham Jail.
“If you love me, put me at ease….”
He kicked the platform out from underneath the man above, and the dust that swirled as his body hung limp reminded him of the dust storms that he used to see when he served in the Middle East. They called them haboob’s there.
“Hang your head low…”
Thorton took a deep breath, then turned around and walked back to his house, leaving the Jetman hanging from the platform. When he got back in, he looked at the three remaining people in the room.
The Small Shiny Things With Heft
Charles Schuster, a widower, called his only daughter “Cupcake.” Flush with money he made in electric insulators, Charles sent her to nursing school. As was the custom of the time this had more to do with meeting doctors than actual nursing.
In his second year of residency, Donald Sivley met Maggie during rounds at the local memorial hospital. Tall, in his mid-20s, dark eyes, strong nose, and dark hair, Don had a kind heart for his patients, yet still very clumsy around pretty, broad smiled, delicately built young women. Adding Maggie’s dry mid-western humor, this had a profound effect on the young man’s ability to stay balanced, hold coffee cups, judge distances to walls, etc.
In October of 1916 he asked her to marry him.
On April 6th 1917 the United States Congress declared war on Germany in what was then considered “The European War.”
Of course, Donald enlisted. He was sent to Fort Piedmont, just north of Aliceville, NC for warfare surgery school. Maggie didn’t see him for nearly 8 months. They wrote daily.
After receiving orders to join the Atlantic blockade aboard the medical ship, “USS Legacy” off the legendary Cliffs of Dover, Donald sent for Maggie to join him. On the train to Greenville, a large black man, black as coal, so black you could almost see through him played a beat up guitar, missing a few strings, and sang a song that went, “Down in the valley, valley so low, hang your head over, hear the wind blow…”
With reservations about sending his daughter so far away by herself, her father sent her along with a charm in the shape of a cupcake. Blue porcelain icing with sterling silver cup, she hung it on a silver chain around her neck.
In the tiny chapel overlooking the parade grounds they were wed. A faint scent of gin as the chaplain read the words from an army manual, “… and do you, Donald Watson Sivley, take this sweet young girl Margaret Elise Schuster…”
Donald took her down to Charleston to the county fair. They saw clowns, gypsys, and a diving horse. Donald promised after the war was over they would travel the world. “Do they have sweet tea in Egypt?” “Yes, I promise we’ll have sweet tea in the Sahara.”
Donald was lost to a German torpedo in the spring of 1919. The Great War was over that Fall.
Mad with grief, Maggie spent her father’s small fortune traveling first to Great Britain, then wandering Europe and later North Africa, where she was lost in a haboob in the summer of ’48.
In December of 2013 “Jetman” Ferlo St. Jules was the centerpiece of the Al Habib airshow outside of Illizi, Tunisia. As he lifted off from the runway, his wash loosened and threw a bit of asphalt, striking Muhammed Ghardaia in the leg. It stung, but did not break the fabric of his bisht. Looking down, the boy caught a gleam just under his foot. A bauble, a small silver and blue cupcake, a bracelet charm. “Where in the world,” he thought to himself, “could this have possibly come from?”
The Girl from ‘Bama
“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to the greatest show in the West.” The announcer took off his black cowboy hat by the brim and swirled it around. The announcer, still swirling his hat, ran out of the dirt-filled center ring as cowboys on horses rode to quickly form a figure eight before the makeshift grandstand.
The announcer placed a hand on the top of the split-rail fence and hopped over as the crowd cheered the swirling opening act. “You ready Kenny?”
“Ya, Bob. Help me with this.”
Bob heaved the backpack of brass and copper onto Kenny’s back. Kenny fastened the buckles across his chest and around his waist. “I can’t believe this things works. I mean I saw it and – .” He took off his hat and scratched his thinning hair. “In 1884, we have a flying man. Unreal.”
Kenny smiled as he bounced to ensure the security of what he called a jetpack. He swiveled two handles from the sides to the front.
“Okay, Jetman, when George and Yellow Rose jump off that there board into that there pool of water, you do your thang.” Kenny rolled his head in several circles.
“That roustabout going to start me up? You tell him how?”
“You’re good. But listen for my cue to call it off. That wind seems a bit gusty.”
Kenny nodded as he started to bounce again. He looked up at the twelve-foot platform and started to sing. “Down in the valley, the valley so low … hang your head over, hear the wind blow … hear the wind blow, dear, hear the wind blow.”
Bob looked at him. “What’re you singing. It’s kinda nice.”
“Just a song I wrote for my girl in ‘Bama … when I was in jail in Birmingham.”
The horses and cowboys wound down their opening and George on his horse, Yellow Rose, trotted up the ramp that led to the platform. Kenny pressed a button on a handle and two wing-like panels popped from the side and he took several steps back. Kenny pointed to the roustabout. “Start me up, buddy.” The roustabout yanked on a cord a couple times before smoke emanated from the side. It vibrated rhythmically. “Okay,” Kenny yelled over the noise. “Step way back, and keep everyone clear.” He waved his arms.
When George and Yellow Rose splashed down, Kenny pressed another button. A spark ignited and fire shot out the bottom of the jetpack. He propelled up. The crowd roared. He stared down and saw them smile. He then noticed them screaming. Running.
He ahead. He was flying into the giant billowing wall of dust. As he approached, the jetpack sputtered. The flames stopped. The jetback stopped. He glided into the wall. He thought of his girl in ‘Bama and her song: “Roses love sunshine, violets love dew … Angels in Heaven know I love you … Know I love you, dear, know I love you … Angels in Heaven know I love you.”