Flash! Friday # 18

This contest is now closed to entries–but is always open to comments/feedback.  Go crazy encouraging each other–your comments make a big difference! Thanks to everyone for coming out to play today. The decision by judge Anthony Marchese will be posted tomorrow (Saturday).

Welcome to #FlashFridayFic Round 18, oh my dears, and Happy Anniversary, Pocahontas–married 399 years ago today! (Got a hankering for contest rules?) We’ve been awfully grim these past few weeks, and I’m in the mood today for a spot of adventure. I’m thinking Jules Verne. Butch Cassidy. Indy Jones. Aliens. After all, who knows what (or who) lurks round these rocks! Round 18’s judgeroffity is provided by clever thespian and SVW member Anthony Marchese, who’s taking his first turn at bat today (make him work for it).

And now (wake up!) it’s contest time.

Word limit: 200-word story (10 words’ grace) based on the photo prompt.

* How: Post your story here in the comments. Include your word count (190 – 210 words, exclusive of title) and Twitter handle if you’ve got one.

* Deadline: 11:59pm ET tonight

Winners: will post tomorrow (Saturday)

Prize: A top-of-the-line e-trophy e-dragon e-badge, your own fancy pants winner’s page here at FF, a 60-second interview feature next Wednesday, and YOUR NAME SKY-WRITTEN ACROSS THE GLOBE (poetically speaking). NOTE: Winning and non-winning stories alike remain eligible for selection for Monday’s Flash Points. 

* Follow @FlashFridayFic on Twitter for up-to-date news/announcements/dragon baby naming guides.  And now for your prompt:

Captive Balloon

Photo courtesy of Hans Braxmeier
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104 thoughts on “Flash! Friday # 18

  1. @StephenWilds
    Great Escapes – 210 words

    “How is it that sand manages to get in everything,” Victoria said in her thick British accent. “It rather chafes, to be frank, and I need a shower. Actually, I would do anything just to get off of this damned horse.”
    Corbin rolled his eyes at her comment as he guided the Red-Arabian horse up the mountain; the stolen animal grunted and neighed, struggling to get up the path. Corbin remembered when he met Victoria, back when he still found her accent, short black hair, and saucy attitude attractive.
    “Don’t make me regret saving your life back there, you could still be with those Syndicate goons.”
    “You wouldn’t dare,” she said flatly.
    “You’re right,” Corbin admitted. “You’re worth more money to your family alive.”
    Victoria scoffed, “you’re horrible.” She looked to the side as her grip tightened around him, they were reaching the top. “At least tell me you have a plan for getting us out of this horrible place.”
    When he didn’t respond she turned back to look where Corbin was gazing off. She gasped at the sight of the large silver balloon with its patches of color. It had been hidden by the mountains, waiting patiently to harbor their grand escape.
    “Yeah, I’ve got a little plan alright.”

  2. Linda Anderson
    @musedmarionette

    Raptured Desert. (210)

    The unbelievable difficulty of taking one simple breath without choking on heat.

    Jasper’s last breath wasted after two days lost in corner to corner sand. Faded blue eyes lifted to the heavens above him, a beggars glimmer in them. He was still standing, not without the effort and help of the wooden staff he acquired half a day ago, about the same time he ran out of water.

    Hope was dashed.

    He took another step but it fell short of his chin planting the sand as his chest collided the not so forgiving ground. Crackling sound as a set of ribs came apart on impact.

    Jasper’s mouth filled with a coppery taste and he laid his cheek to rest, faded blues still taking the landscape at its elevated angle.

    “Save me, My Savior.”

    Colors filled the sky, a vessel lifted from the hills that met in steep windswept slopes. Hot air floating sanctity rising above him. Somehow he had found remaining strength to lift up and carry on. It didn’t take him long to reach the vessel, boarding it quickly. He turned to latch the door behind him and caught the sight of him laying in the sand, darkened by his blood.

    He knew then.

    “Take me home.”

  3. Infiltration

    They’d landed in the middle of the desert, infiltrated the underground research centre, taken the prototype nano-crystal super-conductor without anybody noticing. So easy; just break a couple of necks, wear the right clothes, blend in…

    It was on the way out that they’d been questioned, had to knock out the lab supervisor when he’d made to touch his earpiece to call security. They’d bolted after that, got out of there as quickly as possible; it was only a matter of time before somebody noticed the prone body of their colleague, and then the fun would begin.

    They’d traversed the searing heat of the desert, heading towards the nearby rendezvous point, constantly on the lookout for drones, helicopters or land vehicles. Finally, they reached the hill they’d circled on their map.

    The two men shimmied on their bellies up the slope of the sandstone outcrop. Grant lay on his back, holding his rifle ready and scanning the landscape and sky behind them for pursuers, while Walton took out a pair of hi-res binoculars and peered at the horizon ahead of them.

    “They’ve got to be kidding!” Walton exclaimed as he adjusted the dioptre setting.

    “What’s up? Is the transport there?”

    “It’s a fucking hot air balloon!”

    ***
    205 words
    @theimaginator20

  4. The Great Escape

    ‘Faster, dammit!’ Her voice was raspy with sand and dry air. ‘I’ll leave you behind, nephew or no nephew!’
    Cleve flung himself flat on his horse’s neck, hoping he wasn’t whipping it hard enough to hurt. He opened his dusty eyes and peered back at his aunt, tearing along behind him astride her huge black charger. She looked as raddled and sweaty as he felt. The sandy dunes, peppered with their horses’ hoofprints, soared above them.
    ‘Aw, c’mon, Elsie!’ he yelled back. ‘Herbert’s going as fast as he can! Plus, we’re carrying the loot, don’t forget!’ His aunt bared her teeth, giving her horse a savage kick. She was almost level with him now.
    ‘They’re catching up, Cleveland!’ she screamed. ‘And you know what that means!’
    ‘They’re in a balloon, Elsinore!’ he shouted. ‘How fast can they even go in that thing?’ As if in reply, a sudden, searing red light filled their vision. Elsie swore loudly as a huge rock above their heads, heated instantly to explosion point, shattered into shards all around them. The horses screamed, and Cleve watched as the huge silver balloon peeked over the horizon.
    Elsie leaned in and smacked him across the head.
    ‘It’s not the balloon I’m worried about, boy!’ she yelled. ‘Ride!’

    210 words, excluding title
    @SJOHart

  5. Title: Captain Smythe and the Desert Chase
    Author: J.M. Mendur

    The Hour of Doom, under the command of Captain Alistair Sydney Benton Smythe, raced along the coast of North Africa. The airship’s aether engines trembled at the strain. The crew tried frantically to rig the ship for more speed. The captain himself stood on the bow, one hand at his hip, the other holding a spyglass to his goggled face. Sure, he might be captured and spend the rest of his life rotting in an Egyptian prison, assuming he wasn’t hanged, but he’d be damned if he didn’t look good doing it.

    His first mate came up beside him. “Looks like the patrol ship’s fallin’ behind, cap’n. Too ‘eavy with cannon, I think.”

    “Good show, Bess,” Smythe replied. “How soon before we can head back across the sea?”

    “Wind’s still against us, cap’n,” Brassy Bess replied.

    Smythe noticed that she was dressed in her war gear. He tilted his head in question.

    “Jus’ bein’ prepared, cap’n,” she replied. “I ’ave a feelin’.”

    Smythe nodded. He’d learned to trust her feelings after that incident with the demon mutineer. He turned forward again just as another airship began rising from the dunes ahead of them.

    He shook his head, laughed, and then shouted, “Prepare for battle!”

    ~~~
    story word count: 204, excluding title and author lines
    @JMwandering

      • Who knows? This might be just a bump in the road for our intrepid duo on their steampunk airship … or this might turn out to be their final scene, like the end of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”. I’m not exactly writing the Captain Smythe tales in order.

    • Had me hooked with the Captain’s name, then held my interest with colourful character development. Refreshing to have a female first mate, and the name, clothing and intuition suggests a formidable one! Liked the reference to the possibility of imprisonment or execution, and the incident of the demon mutineer as they both suggest an intriguing background story. Great stuff.

    • Oh, I agree. This was FUN. My favorite part was his taking a moment to admire his own appearance. 😀 Lots of hints of much more story here.

  6. Treasure Seekers’ Travails

    Milo calmed the skittish pack animals as his partner, Julius, dismounted from the back of a surly-looking camel. Milo stared, with unabashed amazement, at the assortment of treasure weighing down the mules. He should have learned, by now, to never doubt Julius’ sixth sense for finding such things. Eyeing the enormous hot air balloon swaying in the hot breeze, Julius was at a loss for words himself.

    “Umm, Milo, old chap? Didn’t I make myself clear we might need to beat a very hasty retreat from here? There’s a hundred or more exceptionally unhappy tribesmen hot on my heels. This is your idea of a speedy means of escape?”

    “Here, now! It’s not as if the Royal Air Force has a full squadron on standby just around the bend! I got this beauty for a song and a shekel and she’s perfect. Silent as the Sphinx, won’t run out of petrol and all of the lift capacity you could ever ask for. I wonder sometimes why I – “

    “Fine! Leave off and start loading!” Julius snapped. “Because, unless I am very much mistaken, your ‘beauty’ is not armor-plated now, is she?”

    He began tossing the treasure aboard as the first bullets whizzed by their heads like so many angry hornets.

    210 words @klingorengi

  7. Well, what a silly place to leave a hot air balloon.

    Days of trudging hither and yon over dale and valley and then a bit of a rest and a cup of tea on the highway and now this.

    And all this sand and mud and how bright is the sun in this part of the world, and where do you get the right permits to fly this thing out of here and down the coast back to its owner?

    I tell you – earning a living fetching the toys of the rich and famous but perhaps not so bright, isn’t as glamorous and as fun as it first sounded. Or as profitable as Harry the Lad had promised.

    Still.

    It IS a hot air balloon, and I am the first to find it.

    AND I have the right license to fly it.

    Nothing for it, then, really. A brisk shot of hot tea spiced with lemon rind and a good lashing of Her Majesty’s finest gin and I’m off and away

    If it weren’t for that little issue about the fear of flying, it would all be a piece of cake.

    After all – how hard can it be to fly this?

    • Love the conversational feel of this story, especially since the speaker is thinking to himself the whole time. It’s interesting, isn’t it, and convenient too that he just happens to have a license to fly a hot air balloon when he not only stumbles upon one in his hour of need and also is afraid of flying. It would be like Indiana Jones having a snake handler’s license. It makes me wonder how his lessons went while he was earning that license.

      • Agreed, Josette. The voice is funny and so readable. And I LOVE the stopping for (spiked) tea before launch. A proper adventurer, indeed.

  8. [Okay, Rebekah, you asked for it…]

    “Ah, you’re wasting your time. They can’t track us over rocks.”

    “Tell them that.”

    He looks back to see that a hot-air balloon has started to follow them. “They’re beginning to get on my nerves. Who are those guys?”

    “I don’t know, but I don’t want to find out.”

    “I don’t want to find out like this!”

    “Why’d we have to switch from banks to ancient tombs, anyway? The banks were easier!”

    “THIS was supposed to be easier. With banks, everybody’s still alive, they get in the way, they can identify us and sometimes we have to kill ’em. In tombs, they’re already dead – or, at least, they’re SUPPOSED to be.”

    “Well, these guys aren’t like the ones in the banks, and you know what, Butch?”

    “What?”

    “They’re very good.”

    As he said that, a bright beam of light from the balloon vaporised one of the gang.

    “You ever seen anything like that, Butch?”

    “I couldn’t do that. Could you do that? Why can they do it? Who are those guys?”

    “Somehow, I get this feeling they’re not from around these parts.”

    “Kid, the next time I say, “Let’s go someplace like Bolivia,” let’s GO someplace like Bolivia.”

    200 words
    @LupusAnthropos

  9. Up, Up, and Away

    In the decade since The Big Fall, my job had been Scavenger, and I was the best. Only I knew the places others didn’t, and I brought the best items back to the settlement of survivors I called home.

    I didn’t bring useless stuff—works of art, books. What were they good for except fuel? I found things engineers could steampunk into generators, windmills, boilers to lighten the near-constant dark and to warm the almost-perpetual winter.

    Life was more or less good. Along with the light and heat, we had hothouses to grow food. We had each other. We had everything except the knowledge of whether we were the only survivors. We accepted we would die here, but we worried humanity would die with us.

    Then, the citizens complained I no longer brought back anything useful. I saw no need to get their hopes up. This incredible thing I’d found might mean the difference between isolation and inclusion, but I needed time to remember how it worked.

    When all was ready, I promised them escape. They doubted me until the balloon and I rose from behind the ridge. I soared, but hope and a better future flew with me. Humanity on the rise again.

    Until next time.

    208 words (sans title)
    @unspywriter (Maggie Duncan)

  10. Afloat

    ‘Dad?’

    Staring at the globe, pushing it with a grubby finger, eyes flickering over every continent, every country, island, state.

    ‘How does the world stay floating in the air?’

    So Dad circles a date on the calendar, the 33rd, and writes ‘daytrip’ in the square, and she ticks off each day, counting down and down until that giddy dawn, and then they pack up a rucksack, with homemade butter pies, a flask of chocolate warmth, two zingy apples, roasted cashews for Dad, and they dig out mud-caked boots, and set off in search of the answer.

    She waves hello to every creature they pass; every sheep, every bird, every bug, telling them all she will report her findings on the way back.

    And then up onto the dunes where they pause to eat, and then a little further and she sees it; swaying, rippling, holding her gaze until her neck hurts. They race to hill and face the plateau. Hundreds of them, as far as she can see; all shapes, all sizes, all belching and burping little bursts of flame, doing their bit.

    And Dad says; ‘One day, when we’ve saved enough, I’ll build us one.’ He hugs her. ‘And we can come here and look after it together.’

    209 words
    @DHartleyWriter (David Hartley)

  11. Hot Air (198 words)
    by Barb Natividad

    It was an anniversary present from their son. Marge had been looking forward to it; Adam was afraid of heights, but wanted to be a good sport.

    Now, here they were, standing in a heavy-duty basket with nine strangers, above the trees, acres of farmland, the occasional late-season golfer on the nearby course, and the chase vehicle on which Adam kept a close eye.

    Adam saw the van suddenly blow a tire, but kept his mouth shut because he was being a good sport. The pilot assured them that the van had a spare, and landed the balloon near the broken-down vehicle. Despite the calamity, the van’s driver and other crew members had set up portable, nylon lawn chairs and a champagne and chocolate reception for the passengers.

    Adam was unhappy about having to wait for the spare to be installed, but because he was being a good sport, he led Marge to a chair.

    “I’ll be right back,” he said, and then returned with a plastic champagne flute in each hand. He gave one to Marge and sat next to her, held out his flute for a private toast, and whispered, “Happy anniversary, dear.”

    ———-
    Also posted on my blog here: http://www.bnatividad.com/2013/04/hot-air.html

  12. Scratchy sand sifts into Millie’s boots. She scoots forward on her stomach. Now there’s sand in her t-shirt, too.

    “Can you see them yet? How many are there?” Millie’s brother Gerald stands downhill from her.

    “A lot,” says Millie.

    “Can I see?” says Gerald.

    “No, Gerald, no. You’ll give us away.”

    “I wanna see. I wanna know if…”

    “Fine! Just, keep your head down.”

    They get on hands and knees and peek over.

    The balloon sways and coughs out great huffs of heat and flame.

    “Is he in there? Is Teddy there?”

    “Ger, I can’t tell.”

    “Why would he do this? Why would he go?”

    “It’s just… time, is all,” says Millie. “Time to grow up.”

    Another huff, and the balloon lifts into the air.

    “Teddy!!” screams Gerald. He leaps up and runs, frantic feet kicking in the sand, arms flying. “Teddy!”

    “Gerald!” cries Millie, too late.

    Distances on the beach can be deceiving. The balloon seemed much closer than it is. Gerald stumbles down the incline, nearly falling in the sand. But the balloon has reached the sky, leaving Gerald alone on the beach.

    The toys look down and wave goodbye.

    192 words
    @betsystreeter

  13. He lay out of sight. Watching. She flung a few boxes out on to the sand and leapt from the basket. She was tall and strong. Black roots scorched through her peroxide hair. With almost imperceptible movement she searched the landscape. She knew he must be there.

    He was restless. He denied himself movement.

    She slugged from her canteen.
    He twitched at the sight of it, needed to move. Stillness was a stranger. He kept to his belly and slithered to the next rock.
    If she heard anything, she didn’t react.
    He made to the slope.

    She remained motionless.
    He lay a few feet from her now.
    But his time was up. She would get this started.

    She turned.
    He sprang at her, wild faced.
    The force brought both of them down. He twisted to get at her but she was on her feet again.
    “You know why I’m here.” she said. “Are you listening? They told you it would be like this.”
    He writhed.
    “You’re going to get up and move to the balloon. No crap. Right?”
    Recognition of the weapon, not the face, registered somewhere in his eyes.
    “Get in! … Shit that hurt…. The next shift better be as sympathetic with me.”

    204 words

  14. Orbit.

    “It’s so quiet up here; like not part of the earth and yet floating around its core.” I was talking at Jerry, but my eyes were flirting with Abdul. The corners of his mouth told me everything.
    Jerry looked blearily over the edge to see if he could see more toy camels. He was well sozzled.
    “Have some more champers darling,”? I said.
    “I say,” he slurred, “Aren’t we getting a bit low.” I looked down at the scrubland, had to lift my hand to still my heart with a gasp. Our shadow was huge on the rushing ground.
    After urgently jiggling the gaz release ineffectually, Abdul said something I didn’t understand, and ducked below the wicker edge of his section of basket.
    “Oh well, what goes up must come down, I suppose. Jerry we’d better duck down like Abdul.”
    Moments later the basket hit the ground with a thud and a creak of wickerwork. It bounced. I gripped the leather handles tighter as, with dust and sand billowing into my oblong view of the oh-so-blue sky, the basket hurtled over the desert ground dragged by the breeze driven, deflating canopy.
    I managed to crawl out, but they didn’t. The core of my life was gone.

    206 words
    Clive Newnham @CliveNewnham

  15. DEFLATED

    They flew around the corner, quads going full tilt, hearts racing and palms sweatier than a greaser on prom night. The moment they saw the hot air balloon, Romy killed the engine and yanked off his helmet.

    Janie pulled up beside him and flipped up her visor. “Hellerman?”

    Romy spat in the sand. “Damn right it’s Hellerman. Bastard beat us to another dig! I’m going to lose my grant if he posts first.”

    “GPS says we’re still a mile out. You still have that flare gun in your bag?”

    He shrugged. “What are you going to do? Warn him off? Like that will stop him.”

    “Stop wasting time and give me the damn thing,” she said, quad still running.

    He handed her the gun holster and she took off up the hill, braking at the top and taking aim. One shot to the parachute valve, one each to the two nearest basket lines. The balloon jolted, the basket dangled at a precarious angle and Hellerman’s screams echoed across the canyon.

    Janie waved Romy on and headed down the incline.

    He thought, not for the first time, how much of his success could be rightfully attributed to his delightfully pugnacious assistant. Perhaps a raise was in order. Or an engagement ring.

    – – – – –
    210 words / @bullishink

  16. The Journey

    She’d carried him for long weary days and nights, stopping only when her body simply wouldn’t go on. She’d kept them out of sight, snitching food where she could, catching rain water in a thermos or filling it from whatever source might be nearby. For now, he was still alive, but he slept far too often. Tears ran down her cheeks when she knew he was unconscious, but somehow he still knew and tried to comfort her as best he could.

    Today it would all be over. She’d finally reached the whitish sand last night and they’d slept in the lea of one of the dunes. As soon as they woke, she lifted him onto her back one last time and trudged forward until, just over the rise, she saw it. It was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen and she rushed forward, stumbling through the sparse grass.

    It sat in an indention. Beneath it, grass grew lushly, surrounding it for a few feet on all sides, then became sand again. As soon as her feet touched the soft green fronds, she laid him on the ground. He sprang up, eyes bright with health, and looked up at the waiting hot air balloon.

    “We’re going now?”

    Smiling, she nodded.

    210 words {not including title}
    @Angelique_Rider

  17. The Perfect Moment.

    Clive was waiting for her outside, just as he’d promised. Sitting on a bench in his favourite mottled cardigan, staring at the sky, and as handsome as ever.

    ‘You could’ve waited inside.’ She smiled.

    ‘I’ve never liked those places.’ He stood, to take her hand. ‘Come on.’

    ‘Where are we going?’

    ‘Not far.’

    Despite the arthritis, her fingers still fitted snugly into the spaces between his, almost as if they had been made as one. They walked away from the hospital, shoulders brushing together, content in a silence where no more words were needed.

    The sand between her toes brought a rush of treasured memory, and she looked down to see that she no longer wore the gown she’d been given before surgery. The white dress billowed out from her waist as she broke into a run. Clive ran with her; his top hat discarded, they laughed and twirled across the soft sand.

    ‘I’ve got a surprise for you.’

    The Balloon waited, exactly as it had fifty years before. Forty nine happy years. One, not so good.

    She was too excited to be nervous. They drifted up, caught upon a breeze of light. Hand in hand again. This time, forever.

    @Brev_ 200 words

  18. Juliet headed up the dusty hill, discarding her empty water bottle; her only obstacle now the relentless sun and her raging thirst. She rounded the craggy hill and there, shining in front of her was the silver dome of the balloon. She afforded a smile despite her cracked lips, knowing she was within reach of the prize; a map as well as her life and her nearest rival was nowhere in sight.
    Juliet stared as the balloon began to lift.
    Vaughn!
    He waved the map teasingly, as the balloon rose, a winner’s smile spread across his face.
    “Throw me a rope!” Juliet couldn’t lose, not now she was so close and death now clawing at her heels.
    “And why would I do that? You tried to kill me.” Juliet ran, keeping up with Vaughn.
    “I think that’s a slight exaggeration Vaughn.”
    “You left me in a pit of snakes!”
    “Which were harmless.” Juliet tripped, sprawled flat out. A rope dangled tantalisingly close as Juliet grabbed for it successfully, swinging perilously above the desert.
    “Maybe we should work together?” Vaughn offered as he pulled her into the basket.
    “Work and relationships don’t mix dear husband” she grinned, plucking the map from his grasp as task one was now complete.

    208 (excluding title)
    @Lizzie_Loodles

  19. IDIOTS

    “Is it going up or down?”

    “I think it’s just sitting there…”

    Jayna, a year younger but a head taller than Justin, raced ahead, her brother hot on her heels.

    “Guys…” Cherise started to yell, but her toe found a root and she went sprawling in the dirt. She picked herself up, but the kids were already over the rise, heading down the other side towards what looked like a hot air balloon.

    “Stupid…” Cherise muttered, indulging in the rude but accurate insult since neither her charges nor her employer was close enough to hear. The kids were too over-protected to have any common sense regarding their personal safety, but Cherise would have a hell of a time explaining her choice of activities to her employer if anything happened to them.

    The sandy dirt was difficult to slog up, but she made it up in time to see both kids running towards the balloon which was indeed on the ground.

    Surrounded by men with guns.

    They weren’t brandishing the weapons, but they were all definitely armed. Justin was pointing at one, probably asking “Hey mister, what’s that?”

    “Idiots!” she snarled.

    “Cut!” came a voice from behind a large umbrella.

    That’s when she saw the cameras.

    @USNessie 205 words

  20. ~~~Soul’s Song~~~

    A chill gust ruffled my hair and lamb’s wool sweater. I loved being up this high moving with the wind in stately silence, unbroken except for the momentary burns to keep us afloat, my balloon and I, and the rarer cries of seagulls and hawks on the wing, searching for prey.

    Below me, the dark waters of Lake Michigan grew lighter in color. The haze that I knew was its eastern shore grew more distinct as the wind pushed us inevitably toward the boundary between inland sea and dry ground. I gazed out over the countryside, and my soul sang in the glories of the landscape laid out below me.

    The balloon was beginning to sink toward the dunes. How marvelous that their dark patches of scruffy winter grass should so match that of my balloon. In so many ways, these small joys have become so lost to us in our hurly-burly world.

    People think I balloon because I am looking for some elusive sense of freedom. I have tried, but somehow can’t seem to convey the sheer loveliness I see every time I rise into the blanket of air enveloping our earth.

    Freedom?

    No. This is undiluted ecstasy.

    199 words
    © 2013 Beth E Peterson
    @PotterBeth

  21. I came running out of the payroll office all set for a clean getaway and there’s the balloon drifting away. I was gunna catch that frigging balloon if it killed me. No thanks to my idiot partner who apparently can’t tie a knot.

    I couldn’t help but smile as I ran.

    It’s my God given right to be a crook. If I get caught I lose. That’s the only rule and I play by it. I was forty-four now and I’d started robbing folks right after the war.

    I’d seen it all.

    We started robbing mine payrolls out west in 1870. Just stage coaches, easy pickings and good money. Shit half the time the drivers were in on it. Then the damn trains came along and bye-bye coaches. We had to learn how to rob those awkward buggers. Pinkertons shut us down there quicker than you can say fifteen to life. They hung seven train robbers in one day last month like they’re having some sick competition.

    It’s getting so a crook can’t make an honest living anymore.

    Now it’s my time to shine. Train robbery was old news. Balloon robbery was the future! I’d be famous. El Paso Jack the Great Balloon Bandito – that would be my Legacy.

  22. The Escape
    “One balloon per child!” the birthday clown announced. Joey was half afraid actually. But, he loved balloons, and waited patiently.
    “Look, I got the big red one!” He scampered off to play.
    “I want one too!” Ginny, her pigtails flying, ran excitedly towards him, pushing him away.
    He stumbled; the string snapped; the balloon escaped. The red dot grew smaller as it floated higher; the tears in his eyes grew bigger.
    “Cry baby,” Ginny snorted holding a blue balloon.
    He felt something was breaking inside him.
    ***
    “Just keep your eyes closed until we get there.”
    “Oh, Joe, you are the best!” Ginny ran her fingers over the soft nylon before stepping into the hot air balloon with blue stripes. Joe ignited the flame.
    “Just us and the open sky.” He murmured pulling her closer. She closed her eyes and breathed in the free air.
    They floated above the towering redwoods. The ocean was in sight now. They circled the sandy dunes. The sun was warm and gentle. The balloon zoomed towards the hill and slammed against a rock. Ginny was gone in an instant.
    “A terrible unforeseen accident.” The FAA declared. Joey knew differently. He still had his balloon.
    200 words
    © 2013 Pratibha
    @needanidplease

  23. The professor looked over the edge of the basket, grimacing as he strained to make out features on the ground. “Is that Kansas? It sure doesn’t look like Kansas.”

    Sitting in the corner of the basket, I shuddered, wondering how he could lean out so far over the edge when we were this far off the ground. Me, I had to close my eyes to climb into this infernal thing when it was on the ground. I couldn’t even ride a tall horse. If I’d known how much time I’d be spending flying, there’s no way I would have signed on with him, no matter how charismatic or persuasive he was to my mother. But I didn’t know, and what the Professor wanted, he got. And he wanted me.

    Or, more specifically, the MVPM system I’d developed.

    That’s Multi-Verse Positioning Magic, for the uneducated. I could pinpoint where we were to within a half-furlong, whether we were in Kansas, Oz, Vulcan, Pern, or in VRspace.

    And since he couldn’t control his balloon – at all – he needed to know where he’d ended up each time he flew.

    “No, Professor,” I said through our telepathic link, “it’s not Kansas. Not even Earth, I’m afraid. Says here … Magrathea.”

    206 words
    @drmagoo

  24. Discovery

    “Away we go
    Wherever and however
    The wind decides to blow
    Like dust above
    The dust below”

    “Come on Jeff, just shut up will you?”

    Jeff stopped strumming his guitar and looked up. “I believe I was brought on this expedition to keep everyone’s spirits up. Singing songs is a -”

    “There is no expedition anymore! We’re never going to find what we came for now. Everyone is gone, and we are drifting over a desert! Or had you forgotten that in your eternal optimism? There’s just you, me, this balloon, and your damn guitar. Which, by the way, will be the first thing to go if we need to drop ballast.”

    Jeff kept a firm grip on his guitar he stood up in the shaky basket. “I know we’re alone, Sam. But we don’t know the others are dead. They might be looking for us as we look for them. And don’t give up on finding that temple. You never know what’s just over the horizon, or behind the next hill.”

    “I’d be happy if we could just find the end of this desert.” Sam grumbled as he turned away.

    “Wait! Look there! Do you see? What it that?”

    @ctperry744
    200 words, without title

  25. Feeling snarky today apparently. 🙂

    *********
    There are no toilets in the dessert. Did you know that? Not a glimmer of porcelain anywhere, just a few empty bottles for the men and a suggestion to “find a bush to hide behind” for the women. A bush? Really? Find a bush bigger than 8 inches tall in the middle of the dessert? With the money they were paying for this trip you’d think they could afford one port o let at least. I mean, 15 hours out into the nothingness and blowing up a hot air balloon just so we could photograph a model in front of the balloon. A model who had to be continuously touched up with fresh makeup because they don’t make an eyeliner that stands up to the sweat you produce in 130 degree heat. Then they have assistants walking around with iced bottles of water for everyone. There comes a point where you neither want more fuel to sweat with or more pressure on your bladder. I don’t care how much they offer me, next stupid photo shoot they want to hire me for better be near indoor plumbing.
    *********

    190 words
    @thorns_n_claws

  26. UNTITLED
    205 words
    @FraserMcFraze

    “No, Dad,” the boy said. “We’ll make it. They’ll hold liftoff. Come on.”

    “You know they can’t, Jake.” I waited quiet until he finally nodded. “Soon’s your horse went down, boy, one of us wasn’t getting back.”

    I saw a tear, my boy crying for me. “I’ll stay, Dad.”

    Charcoal dust got to my throat, I guess: I choked up a little. “That took some saying.”

    “I mean it. I owe you, Dad.”

    “That ain’t so.” I took off my gloves, touched the poisonous ground. My skin tingled. “You saved my life, boy. I was lost before your mama held up your little red face to me. I knew something then I never known before.”

    “I—”

    “This right here is why I’m alive, Jake. I love you, boy.” The unfamiliar words rang in the air.

    “Git, now,” I said.

    * * *

    The gasbag rises over the bluff. I see a few gatlings firing down at the ground. Seems like it’s too light for lizards to be out, but the damn things’re worse every month.

    Pennants stream down from the forward deckhouse: “J aboard”. A kindness from the captain, which I appreciate. I settle down, and wait for night to fall.

    I have never felt so good.

  27. Splashes of Color

    A three-hour drive had brought Laura and Mark far from the hubbub and congestion of the city to longed-for solitude in the desert.

    The howl of the coyote would substitute for iTunes, the lament of the fox, the cooing of the quail.

    They would grill chicken and vegetables on an open fire, and sip wine from a metal cup that would hold steaming coffee in the morning. They would fuel the flames with bleached wood they gathered hiking the animal trails.

    Erecting the tent Laura was buoyant. Watching Mark pull off his t-shirt in the heat she felt a stirring. She removed her clothes and waited for Mark to notice. When he did his face took on the attitude of a contented man.

    Naked on the sleeping bags, in the sun, Laura closed her eyes. When she opened them as Mark rolled on top of her she found a hot-air balloon hovering twenty feet above them. Startled, she pushed Mark off, as strangers snapped photos of their nakedness.

    The balloon drifted off, but another crested the plateau, and then another until the sky was populated by splashes of color.

    Laura smiled into her husband’s eyes. She held his hand, and together they laughed while the riders snapped their photos.

    @B4Steph
    209 words

  28. Hot Air

    The hot air balloon’s bloated top crested high over the plateau’s build-up rocks — enough that Pauline knew Mena wasn’t far behind. Within minutes she would set down in safety on Pauline’s property, her journey across the desert complete.

    It was a yearly tradition. Now that the two women lived on opposite sides of a long stretch of sand, Mena had made it her mission each spring to visit her old friend. Mena still had the youth and vigor that Pauline lacked now, and plus she enjoyed the flight. A full day’s travels, moving by cool of night, meant she could land by late morning. It would be another twenty days before her return trip.

    Only twenty days, Pauline told herself, stretching stiff limbs while rising to meet the visitor, the shadow of Mena’s basket moving across her. Twenty days, and Mena would return to her side.

    With the rocks she’d chosen to block her view, Pauline couldn’t see Mena coming each spring until the top of her balloon, full to bursting, peaked. Until that moment all Pauline had was anticipation, dread.

    Four years since Pauline had moved away and put the desert between them — she had thought it would be enough.

    201 words without the title
    @josettekeelor

  29. The Great Escape

    Toby’s blue jeep raced across the dunes. Behind him were giant scaled sand worms, chasing after him under the ground.

    It was truly the greatest prison break in the history of existence.

    The goddess Athena was in the seat next to him, her gray eyes watching for the hills that were supposed to be ahead, marking the border between this world and Earth.

    He’d come there to rescue her, and Hades was doing everything he could to take her back.

    Toby was just his recent name. His real name was Achaz, and long ago, he and Athena were lovers, until Hades ripped her away for his disapproval of Athena’s love for a mortal.

    Achaz swerved to avoid a worm jumping up in front of them. Sand whipped across his face and hit his black leather goggles.

    “It took centuries to find where Hades hid you, and it was not easy finding a way to remain ageless through the years. I made sacrifices and did horrible things.”

    She put her hand on his. Athena was just glad to have him back.

    They drove until they found a hot air balloon hidden behind some hills. It was their ticket back to Earth, and they gladly took it.

    Words: 208
    Twitter: @critical_kurt

  30. I don’t know why I thought it was a good idea; putting the two of most powerful mages together and trapping myself with them in a flying basket. Maybe I just thought grandmothers could never be wrong. She said Mom and Dad first met on a hot balloon ride and that might be the best way to get them to get back together – or at least prevent them to casting lightning spells while at 1500 feet. They still ended up bickering like two dragons fighting over a maiden.
    “Stop!” At least they recognized that I’m still here. “I thought you said I was the most important thing to you two! All you seem to care about is magic!”
    “Magic is what separates us from the Neanderthals. Frankly, it’s your father’s only redeeming quality.”
    “Ignoring your mother’s classless answer, this is why we agreed for you to stay with Master Chen until your magic manifested. And from what I heard, it has.”
    They just see me as a pawn and not as their son; just more magic to lord over. I pointed a sparking finger to the burner keeping us aloft. They’ll quickly find out that THEIR magic can’t keep them from falling to their death.
    204 words – @JSHyena

  31. Saving Cam-rifval

    “This is it, Master?”
    “Quiet, Keel.”
    “Zerr zwitt…PING!”
    “I know, NZ-5, yes, it does resemble Cam-rifval,” Master replied, hushing the latest Bionic Apparatus.
    “Ding, zzzrumm fawks!”
    “Master, NZ-5 sounds…concerned.”
    “Patience.”
    “But…”
    “Silence!”
    Keel cowered under his master’s glare. Master Mulran scanned the dunes.
    “Gotta be the place. If Emperor Kenree is correct, beyond that multicolor mass is the secret to saving Cam-rifval…”
    Mulran paused a moment, giving final details.
    “Ready?”
    Keel nodded. NZ-5 “PING”-ed.
    “Three…two…”
    “GREE GREE GREE!”
    “No!” Mulran bellowed, “How could they have sensed us?”
    NZ’s warning system was going haywire: red, jagged, lines rushed across his screen.
    The trio had been spotted.
    Arthropod-like things, with copper exoskeletons, antennas, fourteen eyes—sounded for the hunt. The segments of their bodies gyrated at the joints, tails poised to sting.
    “Cover your ears!” Master screamed, “Their call is worse than their sting!”
    Keel and Master fled, ears covered, vainly fighting for traction in the sand.
    “I have an idea,” Keel said, pivoting quickly.
    “No, Keel. Your not—“
    Before Mulran could finish, Keel placed his hands at arms, chanting. At the end of Keel’s attack, the Scorpits squealed, froze: turned to dust.
    Keel exhaled heavily, looking towards his master. Mulran raised his eyes, nodded.
    “Good one.”
    And Keel smiled.

    Follow me @nXgWVTeacher
    209 Words

  32. “The Black Sheep”

    It turned out to be an island. After this, he was quitting that stupid temp agency.

    Frank R Randall. Professional Balloon. He had worked all over the world. Carnivals, State Fairs, Vegas, heck – he even had a cousin in Oz. The Randall Balloon family was legendary in the Balloonist world. And, like any other family, there had to be one black sheep.

    Not to say Randall wasn’t competent. Oh he could drift with the currents, float up and down as needed. He just happened to have bad luck with passengers. Trees, power lines, nuclear power plants…

    His bad luck became his calling card, and soon his opportunities dried up. He was reduced to temping. Stumping for used cars, b-movie filming, and now this.

    Stuck on an island, waiting. When he met the boss, his role was to act menacing and give chase. He noticed all his co-workers were tweaked, jittery, & ready to bolt. And they were a milky white, very wrong. He went to his assigned area, and waited. Trying to figure out how a balloon of pedigree could be menacing. Oh well, he needed the money for his alimony. But after this, f*** it. This was no life for a world class balloon. He was quitting.

    208 words, title not included.
    @kmc_roa
    HEAVILY edited… The original came in over 290 lol.

  33. ANNIVERSARY

    “This is the best anniversary.” Myrt gazed lovingly toward Frank as he guided his hot air balloon over the sandy Laguna hills.

    As the basket scudded the pebbly desert surface, Frank deftly threw out the tethered sandbags and shut down the gas flame. A resident gila monster begrudgingly meandered from the intruding couple and their magical conveyance.

    “Hey, Myrt! There’s a gila!”

    “WHERE?” Myrt jumping frantically in circles to avoid an ugly bite. “I don’t see it, Frank! WHERE?”

    Frank parked and staked the balloon basket. “It’s gone, Myrt. Settle down.”

    “We are down!” Myrt shot back, “And you’re full of hot air!”

    – Twenty Years Hence –

    “Our anniversary again, Frank. Here we are at the foot of our beloved Lagunas. You just rest; I’ll take care of the balloon.”

    “Frank, Mr. Gila Monster is here to greet us. Every visit!” Myrt’s docking movements and basket tethering sent the lizard on his way.

    Frank quietly sat on a boulder, his favorite jacket wrapped around him. Myrt tenderly hugged him, reached inside his jacket and allowed his ashes to catch the desert wind as she tearfully whispered to him, “You’re full of God’s air, Frank!”

    WD CT 194 (exclusive of title)

  34. “Jump, you said! It’s not even ten feet, you said! Sand is soft, you said! Yeah, well, remind me to smack you later. I’m never listening to you again.” Gordon sat rubbing his hip, rolling his shoulder, and spitting sand out of his mouth. He glared at the hot air balloon as it lifted away, then at Jeremiah who was still groaning on his side.

    Gordon rolled onto his hands and knees then stumbled to his feet. “C’mon. We’d better move if this distraction is going to work.” He lurched a couple steps toward Jeremiah and turned to look behind him. “Ugh. Those tracks are going to be easy to follow.”

    Jeremiah finally pushed himself up and glanced around, “There. That bush. Rip off a branch and smooth out the sand. We can drag it behind us to smooth out our footprints.” He grimaced.

    “Where’s it hurt, Jer?” Gordon’s brows pinched together.

    Jeremiah grabbed his right side, “I think I may have cracked a few ribs.”

    Gordon pursed his lips and clenched his jaw, “You start walking. I’ll catch up.”

    “No.” Jeremiah slid his backpack off and held it out, “You take it. Get it to her. I’ll cover your trail.”

    Gordon hesitated.

    “Run. Now.”

    He ran.

    @lissajean7
    207 words

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