Flash! Friday # 50

CLOSED!!!! LOVED the myriad places y’all took this rider!! Thank you so much for coming out to write with us. Results Sunday.

** 16 Days Until the Flashversary!! Festivities will run Dec 2 -6: YES! FIVE WHOLE DAYS to write & submit your stories for (gasp!) actual prizes! And worldwide (minor) celebrity! Mark your calendars now. Mark them again later. Don’t miss it!

WELCOME TO FLASH! FRIDAY!  That annoying tapping sound you hear is my restless leg syndrome, which always acts up in the hours before the next FF launches. Today’s glorious photo sends shivers up my spine in the best traditions of Arabian Nights (free for your Kindle) and Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword and Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion (which he wrote–listen up, kids–in HIGH SCHOOL–in the 1930s) and CS Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy and the like whose desert-and-horses escapades still fuel dreams everywhere. Tweet @FlashFridayFic with any I’ve left out!

(Find the sandy contest rules here.) **NOTE** For the month of November, #NaNoWriMo story excerpts will be accepted with open arms. The excerpt must offer closure, but it does not need to tell a complete story.

This week’s tirelessly wandering adventures are supervised by outgoing SVW judge and fearless explorer Maggie Duncanwho is fond of a good title. (PS. Literally.) Be sure to check out her judge page to learn how to jockey for her favor.

And now:

Word limit: 300 word story (25- word leeway) based on the photo prompt. 

* How: Post your story here in the comments. Include your word count (275 – 325 words, exclusive of title) and Twitter handle if you’ve got one. 

* Deadline: 11:59pm ET tonight (check the world clock if you need to; Flash! Friday is on Washington, DC time–and don’t forget we are on Daylight Savings now)

Winners: will post SUNDAY 

Prize: A galloping e-trophy e-dragon e-badge, a looming haboob (you know you want to say that out loud) of a winner’s page here at FF, a jingling and thundering 60-second interview feature next Wednesday, and YOUR NAME carved into elegant leather saddles across the withers of the world (so to speak). NOTE: Winning and non-winning stories alike remain eligible for selection for Monday’s as-often-as-I-can-get-to-it Flash Points. 

* Follow @FlashFridayFic on Twitter for up-to-date news/announcements/tips on riding your horse for days and days without rest, like they do in the classics.  And now for your prompt:

Tinogasta, Argentina. Photo courtesy of TPS Dave.

Tinogasta, Argentina. Photo courtesy of TPS Dave.

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97 thoughts on “Flash! Friday # 50

  1. The Missing Piece

    She started her journey by staring at the titanium sky. She refused to be daunted by it; for her the expanse of wild skies offered endless possibilities of where to go next. Closely observing the rolling pillows of threatening grey, she decided to head south to the mountains.

    Sophia felt a quickening in her stomach. The mountains…

    She allowed her mind to drift into a world of adventure, endurance and freedom. Here she was to conquer the ragged peaks that jar into the heavens, scratching at the skyline with brutal ease; their ominous shadowed faces hiding the dangers and hidden crevices where lives are claimed without care. The repetitive line of their sculpture gave them anonymity and she became lost in which mountain was which, trying to focus on the snowy foothills to guide her. Two days later she finally mastered them and found herself on the waiting heathland below.

    Her fingers caressed the scrubby bracken and she breathed in the crisp, cool air. Taking in the rugged landscape, Sophia found herself frowning at the telegraph poles that draped wires like bunting across the rocky plains. They stood as a misplaced reminder that this was not the virgin territory she wished it to be, but an area long-inhabited and forced to embrace civilisation.

    She turned to the woman on the horse, wishing she could swap places; she would be the one with the saddle beneath her and the world at her feet. But the woman was not there. Sophia had saved the best ’til last but the the box was empty and the piece was gone. She checked under the table and stood to see if it was trapped in the folds of her skirt, but nothing. It was nowhere to be found.

    Smoothing the puzzle with the palm of her hand, she absorbed its possibilities and silently grieved for the missing piece.

    Sarah Miles
    314 words
    @_sarahmiles_
    http://supperandsyntax.com

  2. Green
    by A J Walker

    Dave’s head felt like it had been rattled between a couple of walls. His heart was exploding in his ears and his body felt mummified. He lay still as he could hoping stillness would make it go away – he couldn’t really be as bad as he felt.
              
              Dave wasn’t sure if it was seconds or hours that he lay there.

              He noticed something in his hand. Eventually it came to him that it was a big plastic token – green on one side, red on the other – he’d taken from a restaurant.

              The restaurant. The Argentinian meat feast place. In Buenos Aires. That was it, he was in Argentina. Things were coming back.

              There had been a conference.

              His head throbbed as he thumbed the counter.

              Dave remembered leaving the restaurant and going to some bars. Dancing – he never danced.

              There had been cocktails and rums. Lots of rum. No wonder his head hurt.

              Sand. The token felt like it had sand on it.

              Raul. He’d met someone called Raul. Said he was a real life cowboy.

              The token was gritty. He span it in his fingers. It reminded him of the drinking. Green all night. He’d just not stopped.

              Raul had said he’d take him to cowboy country if he wanted, but Dave had a plane to catch.

              Green.

              Raul had dared him to spin for it. Red and he would give Dave his snake boots and cowboy hat, green and he’d take Dave to cowboy country.

              Green.

              He could feel wind blowing past his ears. He wasn’t in his hotel.

              There was sand in his nostrils.

              He battled to open his eyes through the brightness.

              There were mountains, but not a building in sight. He was a long way from Buenos Aires and a million miles from Swansea. There was a horse coming down a road with a cowboy on it.

              At least there was nothing green – he hated green right now. And rum.

    @zevonesque
    325 words

  3. Antes de que Caiga La Noche
    By: Allison K. Garcia
    (322 words)

    No longer needing to guide him, Atonia leaned into Eurus’ long, slender neck, holding onto his thick mane. She didn’t look back. What trailed behind her no human could fight. Her only option was to flee.

    Dusty snow kicked into the air with the fall of each hoof. The clouds overhead and the mountains looming behind her, they escaped to the east trying to beat the night. It was a losing battle, and through her foolishness, she had angered the spirits.

    Her grandfather, a tehuelche, had told her the legend, but she had believed it only to be a story. He had many stories, of how the mountains and lakes and flowers were created, passed down to him from countless generations. But, Atonia’s faith had faltered. She set aside their customs and moved into the city. She learned the new ways and left behind those myths. Until last night, she had come to believe only in science.

    Deep in Patagonia, the southern part of the Andes, she had traveled there with her crew to investigate some ruins. By nightfall they huddled around their fire, jokingly telling the legends they had learned in their childhood, when a great wind blew out their fire in one swift, icy blast.

    Something fell on Atonia’s shoulder and on the ground behind them before anyone could switch on a flashlight. The screams were recorded on her heart along with the sight of a hundred dead crows surrounding them in a perfect circle. A crackling noise sounded around them. The leaves of the ring of trees around them froze in the light of a shaky beam.

    In an ancient tongue, the three spirits of La Noche, named Axshem, Kélenken, and Maip spoke to them, but she was the only one who could understand.

    Now she was the only one left, fleeing for her life, away from the fall of night, before she became a legend told for generations.

  4. Sheldon’s Ride
    By TJ Marshall
    (Word count 306)

    Sheldon road his stallion along a dirt road, one eye kept to the sky the other glanced at the moldy telephone poles he passed. They were relics of a lost age, one in which a person’s greatest worry was whether or not their sports team would make the playoffs.

    A dark spot appeared in the distance. It danced among the clouds, twirling and leaping as a ballerina would in a play. Sheldon had been dragged to a ballet once, but that was long before the Rising took place.

    The man gritted his teeth and kicked the horse. “Yah!”

    Racing along the road, the beast came into full view. It was mottled green with scales covering its entire serpent-like body. Two long horns stuck out of the beast’s forehead like spears.

    Sheldon estimated it was forty feet long with a wing span half its length. Just a juvenile, but still they can be dangerous. He grabbed his long curved sword from its scabbard. With a flick of his thumb, the weapon hummed and glowed bright blue along its edge.

    He closed to within a quarter mile of where the dragon flew when it turned his way and roared.

    “Come get me!” Sheldon shouted.

    The creature rose high in the air, beyond the clouds, and disappeared.

    Sheldon waited, his head craned back.

    The creature plummeted out of the clouds behind him. Sheldon turned his horse and raised the sword.

    Faster and faster the dragon dropped. At the last moment it leveled out and attacked head on.

    Sheldon let go of his reins, gripping the sword in both hands. Ducking underneath, he sliced through the dragon’s belly as if cutting water.

    The beast landed on the road and rolled. With a final shutter, it died.

    Sheldon rode next to his latest kill and sheathed his weapon. “I hate dragons.”

    • You had me with the moldy telephone lines. Love that description. I can’t believe Sheldon killed the dragon. And it was as easy as cutting water! Poor dragon. Excellent descriptions, TJ!

  5. The Challenge
    Ian Martyn @IBMartyn
    305 words

    They said it couldn’t be done. That crossing those mountains in winter was suicide. But that was the challenge, the competition, the race, winner takes all. Four days ago we stood on the start line. It was already five below zero, the wind whipping ice particles off the mountains that cut like daggers. The crowd to see us off took what shelter they could. The reporters were already writing obituaries. The others laughed when I arrived, from the comfort of their four by fours, from the backs of quad bikes or the latest in high tech trail machines. They were festooned with cans of fuel and all manner of supplies. Me, I had my blankets, my hard tack and biscuits, my hunting rifle and most important of all the knowledge that I had done this before.

    The flag dropped, a signal for blue smoke to defile the cleanest, the crispest of winter air. The roar of engines and the cheers of the crowd as they left me behind. For me the odd whistle and coarse calls of derision. But the mountains are old and cranky, stuck in their ways. They don’t like the new, the machines we humans put our faith in. They deploy traps and obstacles for the unwary. One by one I overhauled them, broken through ice on frozen streams, stuck in hidden drifts, oil leaking from fractured sumps and split pipes. I picked my way around them, as the ice and snow covered their arrogance, hiding their folly. My horse sure footed and with a nose for danger, finding what shelter there was and the hidden patches of tough vegetation, the only fuel it needed. So now you see me alone on the final stretch of road. Ahead is another crowd, silent in their disbelief, no whistles, no coarse calls, no derision.

  6. Dessicated

    In the endless desert, from jagged peaks across rolling dunes to the parched stone of the riverbed there was nothing alive except for one weary traveller and her faltering horse.

    The compass doesn’t lie, she told herself, East is East and there is no arguing with that.

    With the hot metal of the canteen resting against her cracked lips, she strained to hold back her urge to gulp down what little water remained. “Think you’ll trick me?” she laughed. “That would leave nothing for tomorrow!” The horse whickered his displeasure at the noise, at first she had wittered constantly, first to the horse, then to herself, but she had barely spoken in days. She flirted with the idea that she might be going insane.

    Hours passed and she watched the shadows lengthening as the sun dipped in the sky behind her. A cry drew her eyes upwards, Buzzards circled overhead and she cursed them. They must have taken their fill of many lost travellers out here in the barren dustbowl, the suspicion that she might be their next meal weighed heavy on her mind.

    The horse began to sway as they crested another hill, she just had time to jump clear, landing heavily on the rocky ground and winding herself in the process, she gasped for air and was barely aware of the horse as it lay, apparently dying next to her. Her eyes were closed in denial of the facts, without the horse she was lost, there was no way she could continue alone.

    “Are you okay?” Her eyes opened at once, but she could see only the sand. A voice, she told herself it was just another voice. A warm hand rested on her shoulder, a cup of water was held to her lips and darkness took her.

    “Is she dead?”

    “No,” a deep voice rasped, “she will live.”

    311 words – @FenrirErebus

  7. “The Wanderer”
    Margaret Locke (@Margaret_Locke)
    319 words

    The sadness settles across my shoulders like an old familiar coat. Like a yoke around my neck. Like the cross I have to bear.

    I bring destruction wherever I go. It’s followed me through millenia, since the dawn of time.

    Atlantis. Pompeii. The Great Fire of London. The Titanic. The list goes on and on.

    I thought this time was different. It’d been twenty years. Twenty years of peace in this tiny village, so remote, so removed from the rest of the world. I thought maybe, just maybe, she had forgotten, had forgiven. Maybe, just maybe, I’d atoned for my sins.

    I’d risked it; I’d settled down, had a family. Now they, too, lie beneath the sand that had enveloped them in a flash, like so many before them.

    This was my fault. Mine.

    I’ve tried to hate. Tried to ice myself out. Tried to live alone. But the drive has always been stronger, the hunger beyond my control.

    She made sure of that, on that mountain top an eternity ago. It was the price I had to pay for taking her, for seducing her, for rejecting her.

    “You will sow only pain, reap only sorrow. You will pray for death. It will not come for you.”

    This is my curse; to seek love knowing I can never have it. To find love knowing I can never keep it. All the while knowing whoever gets close…

    I can’t voice it, can’t warn them. Can’t control it. I cannot stop the liquid words from pouring out of my mouth, cannot control the intoxicating magic emanating from my eyes. They’re like moths to the flame.

    I am a magnet, attracting those I should repel and repelling those I should attract.

    Bring me the monsters, the murderers, the depraved, the wicked. Not these innocents, time after time.

    I am The Wanderer. I get around. But this is nothing like the Dion song.

  8. UNWANTED

    317 words

    ‘Ma, Ma! It’s Pa! He’s come back early. Come look! I can see him! He’s just turned into the dirt track!’
    Sissy ran from the ranch to the edge of the hill.
    ‘What? It can’t be! A whole week early! Let me see, Son,’ she said taking his binoculars- a father’s gift to a son from the last trip out. She didn’t ask any questions about where the stuff came from: it just made her worry.They looked ex-military. Looking through them, she was thankful that they hid from her son that the smile in her eyes had died.

    ‘1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,’ she muttered before taking the apparatus quickly from her face.
    ‘What ya doing, Ma?’
    ‘Just checking how fast he’s coming in, is all. You wave to your Pa, now.’
    The boy gave a long arm aching wave, his smile bright and beautiful. Sissy waved.
    The horse man’s arm moved slowly upwards barely giving a response.

    ‘1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10’ Sissy counted in her head this time. He was advancing at a steady rate.
    ‘I’m going to go inside and make sure I’ve got a pot boiling and a clean cloth on the table. Just the way your Pa likes it. You keep waving.’
    Sissy ran at the house. Mind sharp with fear, she moved fast gathering what was needed.
    ‘Ma, hurry. He’s nearly here!’

    She took a few deep breaths before heading outdoors once more and joining the boy. She’d smile now, pretend that she was welcoming a loving husband home. That was how they’d survive this.

    ‘1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10…Wait…Wait…Smile.’

    ‘Ma, why’s he not…?’

    BANG. BANG.

    ‘Ma! Ma! Stop!’ the child wailed.

    But she continued shooting the hell out of the heart she loved to get at the dark heart hiding behind it. She’d kill the son of a bitch that had turned her husband into a mounted corpse and thought to steal his life a second time.

    • Nice twist here. The knowledge ma has that it wasn’t her husband mixed with the child s excitement, pain and confusion is well described x

  9. Quota
    316 words
    @todayschapter

    My work has taken me to many places, but none of them ever clicked. The beach was windy, gritty, salty. The city was noisy, smokey, over saturated. Don’t even get me started on the damn jungle. They were getting desperate when they sent me here.

    The first thing that hits me is the space. There’s so much of it, a positive abundance. I’ve only ever seen this much space in the history books. The horizon is so far away, bouncing in a steady rhythm as my mount plods along the well worn path. I’ve never ridden before but it feels natural, intuitive, like I was born to do this. A large bird soars overhead, his progress is effortless. I want to be that bird, floating on the breeze. I instinctively kick and let out a yelp as my steed explodes into a gallop, the wind whistling through my hair as the mountains recede behind us.

    Something’s different. Out here I am free, free from the glare of fluorescent lights, free from those claustrophobic cubicle walls, free from my quota. This is what I was meant to be, a cowboy from the stories that are told in whisper. I would be my own man, not a mindless corporate drone working 23 hours a day. This feeling is infectious, addictive. Now I understand why my colleagues run from their desks during their sanctioned breaks.

    The horizon starts to blink and I know my fifteen minutes is up. I plead for one more minute, but the deep blue sky fades back to the sterile grey walls of the break room. My boss is waiting for me as usual. I desperately mimic my previous expressions of indifference. His lifeless eyes meet mine and in that instant he knows I will do anything for more time in that world. A wicked grin spreads across his face, “Lets talk about next months quota.”

  10. SAFEHOLD

    Juan rode his horse down the dirt road from the mountains. He was headed into town to get supplies. The dangerous trip would take him several days. A light dusting of snow lay on the ground. Gray clouds swept forward over the craggy mountains. He shivered slightly in his warm coat. A line of telephone poles marked the left side of the road. A rich bounty of wood, the scavangers hadn’t reached them yet. He knew that they would soon be gone.
    He came to Tinogasta. Overturned cars and trucks blocked the spaces between the houses. wood smoke filled the air from the burning fireplaces. He circled the town until he came to the gate. Sharp-eyed men with guns alertly watched his every move. “Hola.” Juan greeted them.
    “State your business.” One of them said coldly.
    “I have come to trade for medicine.”
    “What kind of trade goods do you have?”
    “Wine and olives.” He held up the full saddlebag and gently clinkedthe bottles against each other.
    “No firearms are permitted beyond this point except those carried by the Milkitia.”
    “I only have a knife.”
    “Thatr’s fine. Curfew is at 7:00 pm, Be in your room at the Inn or get shot. The Doctor’s office is at the right end of the Plaza.”
    “Gracias.”
    The hairs on the back of his neck tingled as he entered the town. He felt tense. He was lucky, the supplies he had brought won him six precious doses of penicilllin. He tucked them securely inside his shiryt.
    Hs wife Maria and son Carlos would be saved. He slept with his door locked and the hilt of his bowie knife in his hand. He didn’t relax until he was a half day’s ride away. He thanked God daily that he lived here. The invading Slimies were uninterested in a climate so cool and arid.
    307 Words @EmilyKarn1

    • Your Dragoness, could you pretty please change “He thanked God daily that he lived here.” to “He thanked God daily that he lived in the dessert.” And the word count from 307 to 309. Thank you.

  11. Always Changing, Always the Same

    The mountains at his back bore witness to his humiliation, but they didn’t judge him. Their solid presence served as an invaluable reminder. The facade of things would always be ever changing, but the essence would remain the same. Mountains would always be mountains. Women would always be women. The sky would always be the sky.
    The heavens above reflected his mood. The gray clouds shifted to let some blue peek through here and there. The sun warmed his back from time to time. Even the bleakest day failed to hide the light forever.
    His horse swayed beneath him with comforting consistency. A constant companion, she’d become his dearest friend. That was just fine by him. People were overrated.
    Sparse desert landscape kept the tears at bay. Damned if he’d cry for a woman he’d only laid eyes on once. He’d seen her picture on a dating website. They’d talked for months before he finally decided to meet her. Her profile said she liked cowboys, the rough and rugged type. He’d rode his horse all the way to Montana for her.
    Too late. In the two weeks it took him to reach her, spent without internet access, she’d moved on to a police officer she’d met at a local bar. Maybe he should have told her he was coming, but he thought it’d be a romantic surprise.
    The woman was lovely. Long, dark hair. Big, doe eyes. Nice, curvy frame. Though he wished he could have thought of something to say when she brushed him off, he didn’t regret the trip.
    He’d enjoyed catching and cleaning his own food. Eating a meal cooked by the fire he’d built with his own hands. He’d fallen in love with the sky all over again every night as he fell asleep counting her stars. He woke every morning to the same, reliable expanse. Now there was a beauty he could spend the rest of his life with.

    324 Words by
    @West1Jess

  12. Psycho Stalker
    320 Words – @CultoftheWeek

    I cozied in the mountain crevasse and watched the lone rider. He was steady, that was certain. Each day he rode from slightly after sunrise to slightly before sunset, breaking only to care for the horse and feed himself at midday.

    I followed. When I started I was days behind. My charge was clear, though, and I dogged his footsteps. I was a decent enough tracker to hunt a rider who was not intent on hiding signs of his passing, so faithfully I tallied the trail of day old fires and hoof prints marked in mud and snow.

    Weeks passed. Though I was on foot and he on saddle, my endurance, patience, quick stride and undying determination to fulfill the overseer’s orders shortened the distance. I could soon spot my quarry. From that moment, the watchword was stealth.

    The rider had left mountain passes and was traveling the flat plains. Catching him unawares would be difficult, but he wasn’t expecting me. My secrets were heavy and lingering; the overseer was known to few but me.

    I came to him in the desperate night, when discernment ebbs low and sight betrays. I was upon him as a cat pounces, but he was not so heedless as I thought. As we grappled barehanded, he floundered beneath his mat and flashed a razor-sharpened sword blade. Though orientally curved and ornamented, the sword was prominently marked with the seal of the Illuminati. Our dear rider carried his own impressive secrets.

    Ancient steel sliced my forearm muscles and shuddered jaggedly on the bone beneath; I screeched an unmanly howl. Grabbing my wound in pain did not help, the blood slid through my fingers and splashed on the hard-packed earth. Enraged, I brought my knee to bear on his jaw, and he collapsed beneath me.

    Still dazed, I bound the rider to his own horse, wrapped my wound tightly, and began the course back to mother.

  13. Beyond the Pale
    314 words
    @mishmhem

    The first time I saw him was at my uncle’s funeral. Everyone told me it was just my imagination, but even then I knew better. I saw him again when I was older, but they told me it was just grief talking.

    When I tried to protest they patted my hand and told me I’d get through this, but how do you get through seeing death? Not people dying mind you, but Death Himself: the pale rider. How do you ‘get past’ that?

    Over the years, I’ve caught glimpses of him here or there, but never close by. He’s always been in the distance. That changed last month when I should have died.

    I was attacked and the man was going to kill me. He said I was marked by death and what he did was a kindness. Something stayed his hand that day and I’ve been running ever since.

    I can’t really explain what happened after that. People I thought were my friends avoided me, and those closest to me said I needed help.

    They were right, but rather than help, they drifted away from me. They said they were giving me room to ‘deal with it’ but we all knew it was them putting distance between us.

    None of it really mattered by then because I could feel His breath on the back of my neck and I’d seen His reflection in store windows as I passed by. He was getting closer.

    When He came for me, I accepted my fate and stopped running.

    And then it happened. As I surrendered, another rider appeared and instead of death I felt warm hand grab mine. The rider hauled me into his saddle and with a triumphant whoop he urged his horse on. As we raced away from Death, I heard him laugh.

    Death may ride a pale horse, but life rides a palomino.

  14. Oh Brother Where Art Thou ?
    308 words
    Marco rode along the road as though he had done this many times. He looked wearily to his right. He was dressed in typical cowboy garb so as not to stand out but being the only soul on this stretch of road he stuck out like a sore thumb. Neither fear nor his lack of familiarity of the landscape could deter him. His thoughts wandered. He had not heard from his brother Ian in 2 weeks.
    Marco believed his brother was wrong to come to this country. Like many before him he was bitten by gold fever. The eyes of the world had turned to South America in hopes of wealth. This country was ripe for the mineral picking. The environmentalists were up in arms and protesting. That was what scared Marco. Greed was enough to turn one miner against another but environmentalists here were also violent when protecting the land.
    When he arrived he immediately went to the land his brother bought to find Ian. He searched for two days to find any sign of him. He was more concerned than he had ever been in his life for his little brother. Finding his brother brought him great relief. He tearfully hugged him and laughed. For one split second Ian believed he had finally pleased Marco and had vindicated himself by showing he could succeed.
    Marco smiled at the memory of his little brother’s enthusiasm when sharing his story about the fledgling mine. He turned to look again to the right. He thought he heard someone approaching. It wouldn’t be Ian. He figured it could be weeks before anyone found Ian down in the mine. He touched the fanny pack that held the gold and laughed. It was safe.
    He pulled the last letter he received from his brother and read it.
    “I found the motherlode Bro.”

  15. A Mountain of Heartache
    John Cosgrove
    (320 words)

    Jonah never looked back. Not toward the high mountains he loved so much, and certainly not toward Audette – the only home he’d ever known. Instead, Jonah stared solemnly at the long shadow he and his horse cast beneath a low sun. The cold wind stung deep, but it was nothing compared to the chill that paralyzed his heart.

    Jonah rode on in silent grief and anger. And fear.

    ***

    The day had started like most, grinding feed, delivering flakes, checking the cattle, typical ranch work. It was demanding, but Jonah loved being in the pastures and working the land. It was where he found harmony with the world.

    His chores completed earlier than usual, he returned to the house well before lunch. As he started fixing himself a snack, he heard strange sounds coming from the shed around back. He grabbed the rifle, just in case, and headed to the door. It wasn’t unheard of for the odd mountain lion to wander in.

    As he moved closer, the noise, definitely not a mountain lion, grew louder and drowned out the crunch of gravel from beneath his boots. He tore off in a full sprint and skidded to a stop just outside the entrance. His breath came in heavy gulps when he heard the unmistakable sound of a woman screaming.

    “Help me!”

    The door frame shattered under the force of Jonah’s weight. Trapped in the corner he saw Allison, one of the ranch hands, flailing desperately, eyes wide with fright, shirt in tatters around her waist. The attacker’s face was masked by shadows.

    “Don’t move!”

    Her assailant stiffened.

    “Don’t move!” Jonah commanded again.

    On a cloudy day there wouldn’t have been a glint off the revolver as the man turned.

    Jonah fired.

    ***

    A tear ran down his cheek as he rode onto the desert side of the pass. No one, he despaired, should ever have to live with killing their own father.

  16. Just An Average, Everyday Maniac

    325 words
    @jujitsuelf

    The track away from the mountains don’t look like it leads to a great city. That’s okay, I’m not looking for civilisation. I urge my horse into a trot, I want to get into town and get to work.

    I guess some people might say what I do is crazy. Maybe they’re right. There’s got to be something broken in my head to make me seek out anyone wanting a fight and risk my neck and my money to prove I can beat ‘em. But the thing is, I like it. Fighting’s my job, been doing it a long time and by now I’m pretty damn good at it.

    Even got a name which follows me around. I’m ‘The Maniac’. Thing people don’t know is, that name didn’t come from my fighting. No, the boys down on the docks gave me that name years ago. They said I worked like a man possessed, a maniac, never slowing down. I guess somehow it kinda stuck.

    Most towns have a few bars where the rougher crowd like to drink. All I need to do is get myself a beer and let the bartender know I’m willing to take on anyone who feels like betting whatever they’ve got in their wallet that they can beat me in a good old bare knuckle fight. Sometimes I find myself facing green kids trying to show off to their girlfriends, sometimes it’s a soldier who needs to work through some demons, sometimes it’s just a guy who wants to let go a little and remind himself what it feels like to be alive. I don’t care who I fight.

    I bet everything in my wallet that I’ll win, you can’t fight without faith in yourself. But I never go hungry and my wallet’s never empty. I haven’t lost a fight yet. Been knocked down plenty, but I always get back up and…well, that’s really what life’s all about, ain’t it?

  17. Excerpt from Novel WIP
    @NomDeBen
    251 Words

    The dark desert was still radiating heat from the day. The sand and rock still warmed through the soles of her shoes. The sun herself, not yet giving up defeat, lit the western hills like glowing embers. It was the time of day when the nocturnal creatures woke and began their search for food. Rustling of the brush and swishing sands were the only clue that these creatures had awakened.

    Janet watched the rusted pickup truck that had carried her this far drive away, the roar of its gas engine making it obvious just how old it was. They were very concerned about leaving her out here all alone. “A little thing like you will be just a little snack for the coyotes”, the drivers wife scolded her.

    “I’ll be fine. My friends are meeting me here within minutes. They might already be waiting for me”. Janet’s Spanish was good for conversation, but, she was definitely not fluent and she could tell by amused look on Mr. Driver’s face.

    They left her here on what looked like a dirt road when the sun was up, but it now looked more like the middle of nowhere during late dusk. She waited until the red taillights had vanished in the distance and began jogging further down the road, the pack that Gray had left her bouncing roughly on her back.

    “Another mile, and look for the crossroads.” She repeated Saul’s instructions silently to herself. By this time it was completely pitch black and the noises around her grew louder and more aggressive. The light from her headband LEDs was the only thing illuminating. The moon was taking it’s time getting high enough in the sky to light the path. She found the crossroad. Less of a road than the one she was on. She headed south, it was only another mile and she could see a speck of light in the distance already.

  18. “Love and Learning”
    Scott L Vannatter
    319 Words
    @SVBookman

    She kept the horse at a canter, not wanting to exhaust the poor animal simply because she wanted to get back home sooner. Kristin could not quite stop smiling. He was coming home to her!
    Andrew had left the cattle ranch when he was seventeen; Kristin had been fourteen. Those three years’ difference had nearly killed her; they had, certainly, driven her mildly insane, despite what Aunt Gretchen thought.

    Kristin had loved, still loved, Andrew with that love only a young teenager could appreciate or understand. She could still smell the sweaty musk he had on him after a full day’s work with the animals; she could hear his voice answering Bill’s orders; she could still see the toss of his golden hair when he pulled the hat from his head to wipe his brow with his dirty shirtsleeve. Her love had grown over the, nearly, seven years he had been on her ranch.

    No, Aunt Gretchen could not understand Kristin’s love for Andrew. What they had was a specialness that was unconcerned with the appreciation of others. Kristin’s crying for over two weeks at Andrew’s forced leaving was inconsolable and almost non-stop. She still, in fact, cried much more quietly in the confines of her room.

    Andrew had been let go because Kristin loved him. Aunt Gretchen did not tolerate it from a boy “like him.” Problem was she was never able to put into words why she hated Andrew so. But, when Kristin slipped out to meet him one autumn evening behind the stalls and they had kissed once, Aunt Gretchen had been adamant about him leaving to spare Kristin the pain – “or worse,” she had said.

    Kristin put the horse to gallop when she saw he had already arrived, the car out front. She ran in to meet him. She stopped when she stepped through the door.

    “Kristin,” greeted Andrew, “say hello to my wife, Tilly.”

  19. Not All Things Lost (Wish To Be Found)
    324 words

    When Anna had volunteered to work at the St Mary’s orphanage the last thing she’d expected was a bunch of superstitious idiots.

    She’d heard the stories a few days after she’d arrived but she hadn’t believed a word. How could children survive out in the desert for years with no one there to feed or comfort them and what type of people would stand by while something like that happened right under their noses?

    Finally curiosity got the best of her which was why she was out here burning under the desert sun as she scoured the land for the lost children.

    Glancing back the way she’d come Anna wrinkled her nose at the dark clouds that were slipping across the sky. The last thing she needed was to be caught in a storm out here.

    Turning back towards the plains she froze as she caught sight of something small skittering from behind a large bush.

    Prodding the horse forward she frowned when the creature baulked, tossing its head as it pranced on the spot.

    “What in the name of all things?” she muttered as she tried to get the horse to settle. Something shook the bushes to her right and the horse reared, tossing her off its back.

    Anna blinked up at the darkening sky as the thunder of hooves rang in her head.

    “Food?”

    The soft voice made Anna start. Three children stood just to her left, naked as the day they were born, their bodies smeared by dirt and something else that stained their lips and hands red.

    The tallest child took a step towards her. “Food?” she asked again and Anna tried to say something but her body was frozen.

    The child darted forward and Anna tried to cry out as sharp teeth tore into her flesh but nothing but a gurgle escaped her throat.

    “Food!” the smaller child cried happily and Anna realized too late that she wasn’t asking.

  20. Such Sweet Sorrow
    300 words

    Vamos, they had said. Get lost, they had said, and meant it literally.

    Vamos, for that was his name, had always been unlucky. He carried a rabbit’s foot to try to counter this, but still had the kind of luck that the rabbit had presumably had.

    Anyone could forget to fasten the back doors of their truck, as Vamos had yesterday, but only an unlucky person would have those doors swing open as he went round the bend just outside his village, spilling his entire cargo onto the bank beside that bend.

    This was why there was a giant sugar dune there now.

    The villagers had shouted at him, about the fact that there would be no sugar to put in their cakes, to flavour their jam, or to sprinkle upon their tortillas.

    None of them ever actually sprinkled sugar on their tortillas, but they had been on a roll by then.

    Then this morning the villagers had discovered that without sugar their coffee tasted like liquid cigarette smoke. Panic had set in. People were taking buckets and spades to the dune and returning with sugar pocked with grasses, small stones and coyote droppings. A black market had sprung up in this despite the fact that it looked like cocaine that someone had sneezed into.

    The mayor had confiscated Vamos’s truck, given him a burro and told him to leave forever.

    Now he was on the road, passing the line of poles that brought electricity, really slow broadband and “Desperate Housewives” to the village.

    He touched the reassuring rabbit’s foot. The next village was seventy miles away, but he knew it had a small factory which made the little spinning fireworks that are set off during fiestas.

    He could get a job there. His luck was surely about to change.

  21. Anna’s shame

    My dear Bill
    I am sorry that it has come to this, and so sorry for the way I am telling you. You deserve better, of that I am sure – I have always been sure.

    I had to leave. I couldn’t stay any longer, I was beginning to suffocate and worse, I was starting to resent you.

    Each morning you get to put on a freshly laundered shirt and tie, pick up the lunch that I made you, and head out of the door.

    Each day you get to speak to other adults, hold uninterrupted conversations, drink cups of tea whilst they are still warm.

    Each evening you come home to an excited welcome from your kids, sit down to a meal that’s been prepared for you, and escape to your home office until it is time to kiss your just-bathed children goodnight.

    My days are punctuated by tears and arguments, questions and refereeing, packed lunches and nose-wiping, dashing to school and racing to swim lessons. And I’m tired. So tired Bill.

    I need to escape. I need to be on my own. I need to be somewhere where there isn’t another soul for as far as the eye can see. I need to breathe. I need to travel down a road where I am unsure of the destination and that’s OK. I need time. I need silence. I need peace. I need space.

    One day I shall come back, Bill. But do not wait for me. One day you will forgive me, Bill. I pray that you will. That you all will.

    I have to do this.
    Anna
    ——-

    Anna brushed a tear from her eye and looked up at the clock. 2.45pm. Nearly time for the school run. Gingerly she folded the letter into quarters along its creases. She opened her jewelry box and carefully replaced the letter back into it’s compartment. One day. Maybe.

    @dragonsflypoppy
    316 words

  22. The Clouds
    321 words
    @Donnellanjacki

    “There are clouds over the mountains today, Elisa.”

    Elisa sighed, and turned away. She spent a moment just staring out of the window of her mother’s Buenos Aires apartment, trying to fatten up the little piece of patience that she had left.

    She turned back to her mother, collecting her best smile on the way. It was heavy.

    “No mountains, here, Mama. Just high-rises. Out there, see? Like that one, just there, where I work, and where I need to be, pretty soon. And I’d feel much better knowing you’d eaten something before I go.”

    Elisa held up the small bowl of rice and beans.

    Her mother looked at it blankly. “The clouds mean there will be rain,” she said, anxiously, “and if the rain comes it will be very hard for me to make my way back down to the village, alone.”

    Elisa began to speak, but then stopped, lowering the rice bowl in defeat. It wouldn’t help to remind her mother that she lived in Buenos Aires now, not when her mother was like this. And she was like this more and more often.

    “Are we leaving soon, Mama? I’ll be late for school.”

    Elisa’s son had popped his button-cute head around the door. Elisa smiled, wearily.

    “In a little while, Pablo. Grandma won’t eat, today.”

    To her surprise, Pablo laughed. He ran to his grandmother’s side, and took her hand.

    “Are there clouds over the mountains, Grandma?” he asked, cheerfully. His grandmother nodded, slightly. “It’s okay,” he said, “We can just take the horse, can’t we, Grandma? You and me?”

    “Pablo,” Elisa said, “you mustn’t pretend…Grandma is confused enough.”

    “It’s fine, Mama!” Pablo said. “Me and Grandma have played this before. She just likes to know that someone’s going to ride home with her.”

    Elisa watched as her mother slowly picked up her spoon, and quietly began to eat.

    “She doesn’t like the clouds, Mama,” Pablo said.

  23. Race the wire

    “Three relays and then the hand off,” Billy told himself as he urged the horse on. He could feel the bay tiring beneath him, but he still had ten miles of hard riding ahead before he switched mounts. Then the bay could rest while he rode on to the next station.

    He tried not to look at the poles they were erecting. Soon the express would be a thing of the past, but not today. The poles were there, but the wire had been delayed in Saint Joe, and the mail still had to get through.

    Behind him a storm was blowing, but it was nothing in comparison to the one that had fallen on Harper’s Ferry. No, war was coming, and in comparison the storms were something that would simply blow over.

    It was like the telegraph: it would change the world and Billy wasn’t sure he liked the idea. ‘People should remember these days, remember what it’s like,’ he thought to himself as he approached the station. “People should remember the Pony Express.”

    Another minute and he could see Jimmy holding a horse for him ready for the exchange. He slowed his mount, not waiting for it to stop before he jumped off, hauling the mail pouch with him. Without hesitation he slung the pouch over the waiting mount’s saddle still running as Jimmy slapped the horse’s rump.

    Billy mounted the horse with a perfect flying mount that saw him into the saddle without slowing down the horse.

    “Two relays and then a hand off,” he muttered as he rode past the bunkhouse. When he made the final weigh station, he’d rest and catch up on the news. He’d report what he’d seen and the progress of the telegraph line.

    He’d share the scant news of the coming war, but for now, all that existed, all that mattered was the horse, the road and the pouch.

    318 words
    @mishmhem

  24. THE END OF THE VOYAGE

    The majority of the continent now lay behind them, seven months after they’d set out on their travels. Their voyage had brought them from sandy coastlines to treacherous jungles. From the rugged mountains that now watched them from a distance to the barren plain that separated them from their destination.

    Hjalmar did not look forward to reaching the ocean. The voyage had made him weary, edgy and he was a cantankerous person at the best of times anyway. He would not remember the gorgeous landscapes or the strange fauna. He’d remember the hardships, the pain, the isolation.

    If there was one thing he would recall fondly however, it would be his horse Predbjorn. His companionship had gotten Hjalmar though the worst patches of the voyage. Each time he had wanted to throw in the towel – and those had been numerous – Predbjorn had spurred him on with a friendly nod of the nose against his back or a well-timed neigh. Hjalmar, who’d grown up on a vast farm, was as fond of Predbjorn as he had been of any animal he’d encountered in his lifetime.

    Perhaps it was because they had suffered together. Weathered blizzards side by side. Cheated death when eye to eye with a poisonous snake. They had protected one another from peril without hesitation, without reservations. From the start they both knew they would have to be able to rely blindly on each other. They still did.

    The refracted sunlight on the ocean waves was now greeting them. As they approached the waterline, the backlit silhouette of the woman with the check came into focus and Hjalmard begrudgingly got off his horse. He was about to commit the worst betrayal of his life.

    Hjalmard would never forgive himself.

    But the worst thing was that Predbjorn probably would.

    300 words – @dieterrogiers

  25. “The Curse” by Mary Cain (Word Count: 324)

    A bolt struck the mountains, the thunder echoing across the landscape as if the Gods were striking heavenly drums, each strike shaking the earth. The woman astride the bay horse glanced back, watching the dark clouds consume the blue skies. Just like what happened on that day.

    The woman shuddered, tightening her hold on the reigns. Another burst of thunder sounded, but she could still hear the cries, the screams of women and children and the growls and snarls of the black wolves. An ache lingered in her throat as she replayed that day in her mind. She could still feel his cold hand around her neck.

    She pressed her hand against her swollen stomach, biting her lip as she suppressed tears.

    Why did he…?

    The deformed boy she once knew was long dead.

    As she passed the Great Torches that ran along side the road, three figures appeared before her dressed in grey robes, their hoods pulled over their heads. She stopped her horse, a pain growing inside her.

    “Who comes this way?” the leader asked.

    Fighting the urge to vomit, the woman answered, “I come seeking the aid of-“ She could hold it back no longer. The meal that she was able to scrape together came right back up and onto the road. Everything around her became a blur, the heat around her smothering her, burning her skin.

    Her eyes rolled back and before she knew it, she collapsed off the horse into the arms of the robed figures, still holding onto her stomach.

    “Fa’magi, she needs aid,” one of the figures said, feeling the woman’s stomach.

    The Fa’magi did the same but was then drawn to her hand. A strange black marking was burned onto her flesh inside a pentacle.

    “What is it?” the other figure asked.

    “She has been tainted by him,” the Fa’magi said.

    “By whom?”

    Turning towards the dark sky, a cold breeze brushed across the desert.

    “Narsulus.”

  26. The dust covered everything like a thick woolen blanket, and the world slept underneath. Most people didn’t survive the war; most things didn’t survive the war. And those who did were either numb or changed. I encountered pockets of life here and there, flotsam floating through time. I knew that when I returned this way in a year, many more would be gone. The world was dead, but like a chicken in a slaughter yard, it would run, directionless, for just a little bit longer.

    One of the advantages of the dust was that you couldn’t hear me coming, not unless you were particularly vigilant. If the sun still shone, the clouds my horse kicked up behind me would be visible for miles, but in the eternal dusk of the world’s end, I was barely a smudge on the horizon. I had to stop every few miles to clean the dust from my horse’s hooves, it coated on so thickly, but that was a small price to pay for the ability to surprise my victims.

    The village up ahead had enough resources stockpiled that I’d not go hungry for months after my visit. I’d seen them last year, but let them be, much as a hunter will wait for a fawn to grow into a buck. If I’d harvested everyone at the beginning, there’d be nothing left for me now. The distances between survivors had been getting larger and larger, and this was one of the last few big scores left. The nagging voice in the back of my mind told me that my turn would come too – one day there just wouldn’t be any prey left – but that voice got quiet as we approached the village. It wanted to eat, too.

    292 words
    @drmagoo

  27. Conquest of spaces

    Once there were four brothers in a distant kingdom that shifted through time and space and kept in balance the world of Illusory cities. By the laws of their land each of them was heir to the throne and the key of power in controlling the flow of time and the art of pure Passing.

    One day the most loved brother drew a blade on his siblings and cut them in their sleep. He was exiled, forced to walk the cities in between, never finding the way back home.

    The mountain path outside South Ikarades

    Adrian rode the Vespurian steed he had bought in Ikarades. A shemagh was tightly tied around his face and head, keeping him protected from the heath and the dust. Only his deep green eyes were uncovered.
    The road curved before him, disappearing down a narrow gap cutting through two collapsed gates.
    The steed pulled with ease at each Passing, shaking his black mane as he galloped at the edge of one city to the beginning of the next.

    Upon passing the gates hoofs clinked on fine marble.
    The Kvell market was the meeting spot for traders from all around. Adrian hoped to find information here. An artifact left by an extinct race was what he was looking for. He’d heard stories of this ancient device that could restructure the base of the Illusory world. Delete time and create time.
    He dismounted the steed and headed for the nearest tavern.

    He sat on the bar and ordered scotch. Then he took out a folded paper from his coat pocket and gently unwrapped it. It depicted a constellation with no names, a maze within a maze, with only an entrance marked. The Labyrinth.

    “Better put that away before someone sees it.”
    A slim man pouring beer into his mouth was sitting next to Adrian.
    “I need to find the Labyrinth.”
    The stranger drained his mug.
    “Come with me.”

    @Raptamei

    324 words

  28. “Long in the Tooth, or Manifestly Mandibular Destiny”

    The Comstock said that when the telegraph lines went in, it’d be a whole new Mouth. Distal and medial, lingual and facial. Everything was coming together in the jaws of this brave new world.

    Nothing happens that fast, though. There were still enough cusps between here and the buccal flats badlands where the likes of the Cavette Gang could flourish. Still need for men like Sheriff Le Fluor.

    Le Fluor kicked his horse into a hard gallop as they crossed the ridge. Behind him, gobbets of food debris rolled like snow down teeth like mountains. From here, you couldn’t even see the Cavettes.

    You could hear their guns, though. The shots cracked behind Le Fluor as he spurred his palomino on to the occlusal flats. He’d come out here to civilize the lower mandible, but he’d found himself badly outgunned.

    The shredded body of Deputy Flass lay somewhere in the crevices behind him.

    Another crack like – louder than a gunshot – as Le Fluor’s palomino hit a soft spot in the enamel and its leg caught, twisted, shattered. Its momentum smashed, the horse cartwheeled, hurling Le Fluor clear.

    He laughed and laughed as he scrabbled across the yellow dentin. Diving behind the animal’s corpse as Cavette bullets bloomed in the dead hide, he unslung his rifle from its pack.

    The bore still straight, he steadied it against the saddle horn, looking back towards the cusp. One of the Cavettes appeared from behind a planar ridge. Le Fluor’s rifle burst and, a split second later, so did the Cavette man’s head.

    As that one fell, though, the hills came alive with Cavettes.

    “So much for reaching the gingival sulcus.” Le Fluor cocked the next shell into his repeater.

    Everyone froze, however, as a hot breath rose, rushing around them like a gale. From down wind, he could hear salivation. A flood rushing towards them.

    Le Fluor shook his head.

    “I’m getting too old for this spit.”

    @GordonBWhite
    324

  29. Coming Home
    324 Words

    Like an hourglass, sand spilled down from the hilltops, counting centuries rather than minutes. Wind and rain, along with every other element in nature, collaborated to turn the sturdy mountains into flowing mounds of useless sand.

    Jedidiah rode Smokey down the desolate trail that lead to his once flourishing farm. “I know girl, I don’t want to leave either; but do we have any other choice?”

    Smokey took another half-step before coming to a complete stop. She looked over her shoulder and up the reins to Jedidiah.

    “Don’t look at me like that. She doesn’t want me around anymore.”

    Smokey huffed and stomped one hoof.

    “I know because the seven stitches behind my ear tell me so.” Jedidiah gently dug his heels into his friend’s gut and made a clicking sound with his tongue. “C’mon, we need to make it to Landsfall before the storm hits us. The sand is worse than usual for this time of year, if we get stuck out here, we’ll be nothing but bones by morning. Besides, her farm is next to go anyway.”

    Smokey huffed and sidestepped once, but obeyed.

    Jedidiah looked around at the acres of useless land and cursed his family’s misfortune. They had made a good run of it, just over two hundred years and six generations of his kin had farmed their plot on Mars. That good fortune had started to run out sixty years ago when Mars’ landscape decided to fight back against the humans’ terraforming project. The planet was crumbling all around them, some areas like Jedidiah’s farm, more quickly than others.

    The storm rolled in faster than Jedidiah had expected; before long he was sand-blind, shortly after that he was unconscious.

    Jedidiah woke to a moist cloth wiping his face. He looked up to see the most beautiful woman to ever hit him with a baseball bat.

    “Goddamned genetically enhanced horse.” Jedidiah muttered.

    “I love you too.” Natalie said. “Welcome home.”

  30. “The Road Most Taken”
    324 words – nanowrimo excerpt
    @kristenafc

    “…and I—I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.”

    “I think it’s a really beautiful poem with a poignant message. It is about being brave and not being afraid to take the harder journey. You might be alone or you might get frightened, but it’s worth it in the long run.”

    “It is so true,” said a bright-eyed girl near the open window. “You only live once. Make it count!”
    “Yes,” said the teacher.
    “I get it,” said a earnest boy whose braces made him look much younger than his seventeen years. “Make the choice that’s right for you!”
    “Exactly,” said the teacher.
    The students nodded their heads. Many of them smiled, lost in reverie about the dusty and difficult roads they’d travel and how it would all be worth it in the end.
    “How can you teach us such crap?” The question came from the back row.
    “Excuse me?” The teacher said.
    “It’s such a load of bull.”
    The other students turned to look at Kyle. He was the weird one who was raising his younger siblings all alone.
    “Calm down, Kyle,” the teacher said.
    “No one in this room is going to do anything extraordinary.”
    The other students started to protest, but he interrupted them.
    “Look at your parents’ lives. I bet most of them read this poem in high school.”

    The other students did think of their parents, about how they seemed grouchy and unfulfilled most of the time, and how their friends’ parents seemed the same.

    They erupted in chatter, and the teacher tried to calm them.

    “What about you? What road did you take?” he said to his teacher as he was closing the door.

    After Kyle left, his teacher sat down in the noisy room and stared at the clock. The bell would ring soon. Maybe she’d missed the point of the poem in her own high school English class.

  31. Wind Swept Sands
    (325)

    Lalai leaned back on her haunches at the edge of the sunbaked grass, fingers hovering scant millimeters over the sand. Week old wounds were ignored as she contemplated what she planned to do.

    Invaders overtook the capital city mere six months ago, putting the ruling family to the sword, plunging the country into darkness and despair, demanding worship and tribute.

    Small pockets of resistance sprung up only to get mown down like ripened wheat.

    Drought meant crops were poor. When Father refused to hand over half their stores to the invaders … well…

    She’d escaped and managed to elude the patrols so far, but in reality there was no place to run. Her world lay shattered.

    She planned to return the favor.

    Grandmama used to tell stories of an ancient group of Defenders that the wind could summon from beyond the mortal realm to take vengeance.

    The young woman took a breath, listening as the telephone wires buzzed and hummed in counterpoint to the breeze. Dark steel gray clouds teased rain; the air heavy and uncomfortably close.

    Sand drifted across the road, hissing in quiet displeasure as it filled in ruts and potholes in the rough road.

    She needed vengeance. But she could not do it herself. “Then, I shall become the wind.”

    The ancient incantation tumbled from her lips, powered by belief, desperation, and rage, echoing among the low sand-covered mountains.

    As the last word fell, the wind surrounded her, as comforting as if within her father’s embrace. A faint smile of satisfaction appeared on her face as she faded away.

    Sand shifted and crunched beneath hooves as a rider and his mount freed themselves from a dune and cantered out onto the road. A dark intelligence gleamed from quick-silver eyes as his hair was ruffled.

    Accompanied by the sliding hiss of sand and wind, a full company soon stood upon the road awaiting their commands.

    The wind screamed and the company rode.

  32. The Moons
    Laura Carroll Butler
    318 words

    When he saw the telegraph poles, Thomas knew that civilization was encroaching. It always happened, he knew, no matter how far he rode. He’d first left civilization when he was 20 and looking for an adventure. He ended up at Camargo and Vera Cruz, an American occupier in a Mexican wilderness. When the war was over, his enlistment was up and he came back home to Virginia, civilization, to pound nails and shovel dirt. That lasted for two years then he could no longer stand the stifling of people. He went back into the Army, back to the wilderness of what was now American land for the next ten years.

    He was stationed in Los Lunas, The Moons, as far in the wild as he was allowed. It was hot, dry, dusty, nothing like the lush greenness of his home in Tidewater. Thomas loved it. Back in civilization, there was the rumbling of war again, but this time the enemy was their fellow American. On The Moons, Thomas was friends with Mexicans and Anglos, Pueblos and Navajos, Mormons and Catholics. The wild seemed conducive to harmony.

    Then he met Manuelita and became her Tomas, a civilized husband. The Army was no place for a tamed husband and Tomas was just as happy. He could be a husband, a farmer, a father. When he heard the coyotes howl in the night, he was happy in his safe house and safe world. But when Manuelita died and their child with her, Tomas decided he’d had enough of civilization.

    So he left again, finding solace in the wild that he gave up once. He rode for decades, leaving The Moons behind for the desolation of the desert. But no matter where he went, the civilization crept closer, first the telegraph poles, then the railroad. He could keep riding, he knew, but he was tired and civilization no longer seemed so daunting.

  33. The Adventure Ends: October 3, 1880
    @vbholmes
    323 words

    The Colorado Mountains surround me as I travel through the Gunnison Valley on my way to Denver. I keep my horse at a slow pace as he’s carrying two bodies: mine and my brother’s.

    It’s been six months since we followed our friend, Griggs, west to find work in the mines.
    Alger was the firstborn, and I always looked to him for advice. When Griggs started talking about the money to be made by taking silver from the earth, I listened. Then I went to Alger, and he listened.

    We knew all about seeking your fortune in a strange part of the country. Our parents were homesteaders in Kansas. My mother hated the flat land and told my father her next child would be born in her family home, with or without him. We returned to the green hills and blue sea of Massachusetts, and never left.

    However, we remembered well the excitement of the quest and Griggs’ enthusiasm fed our own as we journeyed west. Along the way, we met other men who were following their destinies, and as we neared Colorado, their ambitions predominantly centered on silver, but a few still believed there was gold in the mountains.

    Alger, Griggs and I settled in Gunnison and found work in the Forest Queen mine. It was a day’s ride away so we stayed at the mine and came to town on Saturdays. Our rented room was a luxury, but it allowed us to feel civilized. It also gave us a clean bed for Alger when he contracted typhoid fever. He fought it for two weeks, and yesterday, he succumbed.

    Today, I carry his body away from Gunnison. I’ll bury him in Denver where there’s a proper cemetery. There’s no reason for me to stay as the adventure died with Alger. However, I’ll make sure he has a marble tombstone. I want to be able to find him if I return.

  34. Tormented

    The children were gone, but the children were not gone.

    Mounted on a steed as thin and frail as a child’s stick-figure drawing, he fled across an endless desert landscape. Like his horse, the rider possessed little substance; his gaunt frame was a mosaic of exposed bone and blistered skin, bleached and baked brick-red beneath an unremitting noonday sun.

    The mare heaved, expelling a great, sorrowful sigh. He might have stroked her neck, might have offered some consolation or encouragement, but his hands were as they always were—hooked like claws around the damned pipe. His fingers moved over its holes in sharp, involuntary jerks. Hot, hollow breaths were drawn from his lungs and funneled through the slender ivory tube that rested between cracked, bleeding lips.

    Terrifying in its innocent cheeriness, the familiar melody swirled in the air, trailing behind him like an invisible cape.

    As always, when the piper played, the children followed.

    An army of footprints tracked through the sands behind him. Each tiny imprint vanished an instant after it was laid, carried away and forgotten by an indifferent wind. Tirelessly they marched, the evanescent tracks the only trace of a lonely hoard that relentlessly pursued the piper and his enchanting tune.

    The mare heaved again, shuddered, and, with an almost silent whinny, collapsed. The piper toppled headfirst into an abrasive dune. Unable to free his hands from the cursed instrument, he flailed in the shifting sands, drowning beneath coarse waves.

    Ghost hands lifted him from the gritty current and set him upright near the dead animal. Unable to speak, he bid the horse farewell with his yellow, unblinking eyes. Her spirit had repaid its cosmic debt, and now he would have to carry out his penance in solitude. The piper trudged forward.

    On Earth, the children were gone; they were drowned in a river.

    But here, the children were not gone; they would follow him forever over an endless ocean of sand.

    324 words
    @LadyHazmat

  35. “Ride of the Heart”
    I went to the stables and found my precious Rosa. I saddled her and climbed up the stirrups. The mountains towered on either side of me, brown and covered in sand from the desert winds. I whipped the reins hard and drove the horse forward. I tried my best to hug my Rosa’s black mane and clutched her soft brown hair while staying in the saddle. Tears poured from my eyes, lost in the wind.
    ***
    “Dad, I can’t be here anymore!” I shouted, my face red with tears.
    “Where will you go if you won’t stay here?” My father asked, a harsh sting in his voice.
    “Anywhere but here. To my favorite place in the mountains,” I said as I walked to the door.
    “I won’t let you go!” His face filled up red with rage.
    I turned the knob of the front door. “You can’t keep me from leaving.” I looked over at his face and saw that tears were falling from his eyes.
    ***
    I snapped the reins even harder. Rosa bolted down the road. I dashed through the desert valley and escaped the stormed that chased me from the mountains. The sun shone up above, trying to not be swallowed by the coming clouds. Wind blew and dirt bit into my eyes.
    ***
    “Why won’t you stay?” My father asked, pleading with me.
    “I can’t let you do this to my mother’s memory. I can’t live with another mother, especially not her. Please let me go.”
    “It hurts me too. And you’re all that I have left of her,” my father said. I opened the door and stepped beyond the threshold. “The cancer can take my life at any time.”
    I held Rosa’s reins and heard my father’s last words. “I love you, son.”
    ***
    I slowed to a stop and read the message yet again. “Your father passed away.”
    “I love you too, dad.” A tear fell to the sand.

    323 words
    @Brian Koehler

  36. The Players on Inland Island
    (324 words)

    Dice bounced across the game board, knocking pawns off colorful squares.

    “Dammit, Sax,” yelled Zhone.

    “You need my strength for the plow, so accept my rolls,” Saxophone mumbled, replacing the pawns.

    “What’d you get?” Porpoise asked Sax. (Porp feigned blindness despite everyone knowing he was a boy of sight.)

    Sax advanced his pawn to a square with a question mark. He drew a card, but before he could ask its question the tent flap opened and Murphy entered.

    “Residents of Gejar,” Murphy said, “may it be known the clouds are dense, and I have word the drive-in will proceed.” She looked at the handful of people on the floor around the game board; her horse whickered outside, steamy from the ride.

    Porp sprung up, waving a cudgel. “Identify yourself!”

    Murphy ignored him. “The feature is entitled”-she pulled a pamphlet from her overalls-“‘The Hurried Hearts.’ Rated PG-13.” She smirked at Porpoise.

    “No,” the matron Juna said. “The boy has had nocturnal emission. He is prepared for the PG-13.”

    “It’s settled,” said Zhone. “We go.”

    “Good,” Murphy said. She joined the ring of players. “How’s the meeting going?”

    Saxophone said, “Whoever gets this question wrong will close the moon weaving rope. I landed on the crocodile’s tongue and will be responsible for tanning. Otherwise we’re in high spirits, and the listing of sorrows took a minute tops.”

    “That’s why I like Gejar,” Murphy said; Sax read a question about soap.

    At nightfall they left their encampment for the mountains. At a peak they stopped, spread blankets, and readied such snacks they had. Cars from the city assembled in the valley below; family members laid next to them on blankets of their own.

    The sky-projector lit, and the clouds streamed with movie previews. Afterwards the feature film, which the Gejarians were spellbound during. Back in their sleeping bags that night they laid awake, wistful about the America they left, at times filled with loss, at times romance.

  37. “The Fires of Avarice”

    I bet you’re wondering why a goodly, godly chap would be tearing across this godless badland with the fury of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Well, I’ll tell you.

    “There be gold in them thar hills, and we mean to make it ours. You in?” he asked in his alcohol worsted brogue.

    They were not a bookish lot by anyone’s estimation, but well traveled wilds men and reputedly talented miners all. Thusly I, being an enterprising young bachelor of small means, set out to raise his station in life.

    The first rumor of my flight’s impetus was a susurration, a gentle shush-shush-shush in the darkness of the cavern. It pulled me from my shallow repose as a child pulls a balloon bobbing in its wake. Then, a soft glow, warm as a candle in the darkness, silhouetted the passage’s entrance into a larger chamber. Leaving sleep’s fringes entirely, I rose and felt along the dark corridor, bare feet on the uncannily warm stone.

    A sudden crunch like ice beneath a heavy boot, and the shushing became the cascade within a tribal rain stick as my feet found the verge. Eyes adjusting to the orange light, I saw mountains of golden coins, and a shape reared atop. Its mass implicit in the dark, drove warmly lit rivulets down into unmeasured depths. Its eyes gleamed red with the avaricious flames that stood in its nostrils. The massive wedge of its head stood upon a craned neck, angled down to look at me. The silhouette of its unfurled wings, reminiscent of a bat’s, stretched beyond the twenty odd yards of my vision’s span.

    I took to the heel, pursued by the fiery breath it bellowed, and bounded past my companions who withered on that Hellish blast. Now run, you seekers, you lustful lot that would as we have tread. Back the way you came. Back with me!

    315 Words

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