Dog Days of Summer Contest

Doffer boys, Jan 1989. Public domain photo by Lewis Hine.

Doffer boys, Jan 1909. Public domain photo by Lewis Hine. Click on photo for Tom Sawyer excerpt.

In the dragon world of Flash! Friday, it’s summer. It’s always summer, in fact, and the days stretch out forever and you know you’ve got to borrow or invent mischief or you might go mad. So — welcome to the Dog Days of Summer writing contest! It’s too hot out for blather, so let’s get right to it.

Contest: Dog Days of Summer

Dates: July 8, 7:30 am until July 22, 11:59pm, 2014. All times local to Washington, DC. Check the world clock to translate into other time zones.

Rules: The normal Flash! Friday rules apply to content. 

Word Limit: 800 – 1,000 words, exclusive of title/byline

Inspiration: Tom Sawyer (childhood summer mischief: “real” or imagined)

Where: Here in the comments, as always.

Judges: Rebekah will choose the “top ten,” to be announced July 24. In keeping with the spirit of Tom Sawyer, the top 3 winners will be chosen by public vote (yes, it’s time to call Grandma); the poll will be open July 24 – 28, with the official winners’ announcement posting on Tuesday, July 29. 

Prizes: (via PayPal or Amazon gift card, winner’s choice — thank you to the Flash! Friday sponsors!)

    • Grand Prize $25 and the triple envy of the neighborhood gang
    • 1st runner up $15 and the double envy of the neighborhood gang
    • 2nd runner up $10 and the envy of the neighborhood gang

Now go get yourselves into some trouble!

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136 thoughts on “Dog Days of Summer Contest

  1. Strawberries & Cream

    The wasp dances haplessly within the dull interior of the glass. I lean in, examining the striped beast scrabbling for purchase. Tipping the glass gently, I slide a piece of apple in before grabbing my keys. I pause at the front door, wondering whether to peer into Mum’s bedroom again.

    Outside, though its only eleven in the morning the concrete of the tower block is already baking hot. Everywhere windows are cast open, net curtains hanging apologetically as raised voices quarrel in the heat. Descending the stairwell, shifting from light to shade, the usual stale odors are overwhelmed by the aroma of someone’s greasy BBQ burning greasier meat.

    Ground level and Skunkhead Phil is in position, stood smack in the centre of the estate, weeds peeking out between the cracks in the concrete beneath his feet. Neck craning, hands cupped to his ears. I asked him once what he was doing, his irises big as moons stared deep into mine. Apparently he was deciphering the chaos of noise that emanated from the four conjoined tower blocks. ‘No need for a television with this lot!’ he chuckled into the sky.

    I walk past, head down, not in the mood for engagement, Skunkhead, oblivious to my passing, listens in on his world.

    I hate London in the summer. Most people when you say summer think of postcard crap. Wimbledon, pale skin cooking on the beach, picnic hampers, freshly mowed grass. For me summer is a combination of hot tarmac, white dog shit and a light that bleaches your eyes. I dated a girl once, Tamsin. Total obsession, yet in reality I was nothing but a thorn to prick her father with. He owned a car dealership, hated me, evident from the fixed grin that never left his face the first time we met. Sussed me straight off, not fooled by the Rude Boy with the East End accent intent on touching up his daughter. Yet he knew how to end this particular dance. Just had to declare me a friend, embrace the relationship.

    She dumped me the next day, not even a breakup shag to lessen the fall.

    Bastard.

    Anyway, summer for Tamsin meant Spain, Tenerife, France. Far flung exotic locations. She laughed when I told her I had only been out of London once. A torturous trip to Devon two years ago, the three of us packed into a car borrowed from one of Dad’s mates, more rust than metal. With a fan belt that screamed louder than the radio. No blue water or white sand awaited us though, just a decrepit ghost town teetering beside cold grey water. That holiday was the last time we were together. Back home Dad set off to the return the car, yet failed to return himself. Mum kept it calm for a while, reminding me each day over breakfast that he had always come back to her.

    She pined for him, till the void in her fermented into bitter resentment. Don’t get me wrong she never turned on me. Yet the fortress was shut, the doors barricaded. Her only solace the booze, chased down with pills to help her sleep. Nothing Shakespearian. Just another insignificant drama played out through the repetition of smaller moments.

    Yet we’d been happy that holiday. Well I had been. Made a killing in the arcades, working the penny falls. Watching coins drop, pushing their clinging compatriots over the edge. Conning the local kids, in awe at this scally from the big city. Initiating them in the joy of shoplifting, the thrill of the chase, and lure of Billy Whizz. I almost found myself enjoying the scent of the sea, daydreaming of staying here, getting a job.

    Mum was happy there as well. Sat on the pier, a punnet of strawberries and cream. Red juice staining her fingers, white smeared across her lips. Her laughter, cutting across the serenading gulls.

    Strawberries and cream, I feel the tears rising. Shaking my head, I spot D waiting outside the lockup, the only reason I left the flat this morning was he owed me some money. I light up, ignoring his eyes rolling at my lack of response to his greeting. Moments later two vans pull up. D begins chatting with the drivers, two identikit blokes, shaven headed, bomber jackets. I keep my head down, unloading the stacked boxes lurking within. Electronic gear all off the back of some lorry. Soon they’ll be touted by loud confident voices in the market, declaring promises of a bargain.

    Vans unloaded, cash paid. D asks what’s up, how come I’m, so moody this morning. I shrug, he rolls his eyes again, yet chucks a fifty into my grip and I move off. I like D, he’s a decent bloke, yet today’s a day that father figures can do one.

    I hit the Red Lion, necking a pint whilst cherries spin on the fruity. Classic pub, filled with dark wood and darker souls. I nudge a couple hitting the jackpot, another twenty. My lucky day, the universal joke. I treat myself to one more pint out the back in the beer garden, comprised of two cheap benches, a sagging umbrella and a view of the stagnant canal. Not exactly Benidorm but it’ll do. As I watch the sunlight glisten off of the rising bubbles in my glass from somewhere I hear the cry of gulls and the crashing of waves.

    Cream smeared on her lips.

    I feel sick, forcing back the panic, drinking deep.

    The sunlight would be coming in through her window now, barely warming the bluish white foot nestled between red sheets. The vomit, speckled on her lips, trapped inside her throat not over the bed this time.

    I chuck the glass into the canal, whilst red juice dribbles down her chin, her laughter crashing like waves. Dad’s sullen glare as he again checks his watch. The scent of coins on my skin, turning fingers into dead batteries.

    It’s time to let the wasp go.

    @imageronin

    1000 words

  2. The Mystery of Uncle Fraser, The Car and The Octopus Man
    (1000 words)

    I was eleven when I became a Government agent, the same summer I fell in love with The Famous Five. Those evenings, I would read myself awake to the height of one of Blyton’s thrilling crimes (inevitably, it would be at this point that my eyes were forced to race the fast paced clicks that made up my mum’s bedtime routine. Click. Click. Click- the television set, the electric fire, the living room light switch. Click. Click.Click- the switch at the far end of the hallway, the switch nearest my bedroom… darkness.) and, half awake, in the first light of the morning, I would grope for the dastardly culprits. My appetite increased as I went through the summer days with the taste of picnic on my lips, and I longed for a dog called Timmy.

    My mother had three things to say on the matter. I was eating her out of house and home. There would be no dog in her house. The name fitted the dog, not vice versa.

    I lived in a village not far enough away from anywhere to be considered remote but not near enough so anyone would claim us. There were no children of my age. I had been the youngest in the village (by some way) for three years which bred the gap that left me friendless. The only person who understood me was Uncle Fraser.
    When he came round, Mum would usually tell him off for filling my head with nonsense, I had an overactive imagination as it was! (I also heard her tell him off for the company he kept. There was a secret message hidden in the word ‘company’ that the drop in her voice seemed to emphasise, the same emphasis she and the neighbours placed on Miss Langland’s ‘gentlemen callers’. Yet, to me, drawing attention to a secret seemed a strange way to keep one.)

    Two weeks into the summer holidays, Uncle Fraser paid a visit.
    ‘Your nose in a book again!’ he grinned. ‘You know what you need? A visit to the fairground.’
    I tore myself from my crime solving friends and looked up, hoping that this wasn’t one of Uncle Fraser’s ‘hypotheticals’.
    ‘They’re setting up down on the fields,’ he said. ‘Just drove passed them.’
    I began running in the direction he had pointed, before shouting back… ‘Drove?’
    but my mum’s voice had beaten mine to it, and he was already under investigation.

    I arrived at the fields, and the skeleton of the fair was taking shape. I watched men with arms sculpted by hard work and guts slackened by beer transform nuts, bolts and whatnots into the Waltzers, the Ghost Train, the Hall of Mirrors… until a tall man spotted me and shooed me from the spectacle.

    At home, Uncle Fraser asked why I was risking my mother’s wrath by tearing the living room apart- I gathered he had suffered the rigours of mum’s earlier interrogation for quite some time.
    ‘I’m looking for the story I read two books ago.’
    ‘I’ve never heard time meted out in books before! You’re some lassie.’
    ‘It was one about the fair. A mystery.’
    ‘A mystery, eh? Things not exciting enough around here?’
    I continued searching. Uncle Fraser didn’t need an answer.

    During dinner, he sat opposite me. ‘Can I tell you something, before your mother comes for the dishes?’ He dragged his chair closer to the table. ‘A smart kid like you knows my arrival at the same time as the fair’s wasn’t coincidence, right?’
    ‘Wasn’t it?’
    ‘That’s right! And I’ve a bit of business to do on behalf of a ‘client’.’ His voice had dropped. I listened. A bona fide secret. (Although I did think he should be more careful, but I’d tell him my voice theory later.)
    ‘I’ve been doing some work for an important man in England. And I need help. You’re shaping up; you could be what I’m looking for.’
    ‘Is it to do with the fair?’

    ‘And a government secret,’ he whispered.
    ‘Government secret,’ I was careful to keep my voice even. I was a secret agent, and this secret would be safe.

    A file was to be delivered to a booth at the fairground. It would contain a key and some papers. In return, I would receive an envelope. The envelope was TOP SECRET, and it would say so.

    I had to be in position by 6 o’clock. I did as instructed.
    ‘I’ll cover you,’ said Uncle. ‘But I need to stay out of sight. Or the game could be up!’
    I didn’t mention I’d overheard mum say how he and his ‘company’ had been in ‘very plain sight’ the whole of the evening before- he was the expert, after all.
    ‘Now, head for the tall man,’ he said.

    The tall man was waiting. He bent down to my height, his face too close for focus, ‘The man you’re after is at the last booth,’ he whispered. I weaved my way through the crowd, the file tucked under my arm. The strangled music of the fairground boomed and waned as I passed the rides. My head felt light with excitement. ‘Three hoops for a pound!’ shouted a girl with candy floss hair before I reached the booth that fronted a pink octopus ride and stopped.

    ‘Automobile.’
    ‘You have it?’ said the man at the booth, understanding the password.
    I placed the file on the counter, and I swear, as I stared at his watery eyes that from the corner of mine, I saw a tentacle flick. I concentrated on bracing my weakened knees.
    ‘Nice doing business,’ he said passing me the envelope, and with that, I walked as straight as I could right out of the fair.

    Later, when I saw the octopus man driving my uncle’s car, I didn’t allow myself to unravel the mystery of Uncle Fraser, the car and the octopus man. Instead, I chose to relive the moment I left the fairground having done my bit for the Government.

    • I’ve tried to be cool about this, but the typos are driving me insane! Para 6 ‘Uncle Fraser’ and Para 7 ‘been’ not ‘being’. There, I feel better already.

    • Very vivid imagination. I loved the way the adventure in the books leads the adventure in reality. Great images, especially of the fair. Really enjoyed this…”I arrived at the fields, and the skeleton of the fair was taking shape. I watched men with arms sculpted by hard work and guts slackened by beer transform nuts, bolts and whatnots into the Waltzers, the Ghost Train, the Hall of Mirrors…”

  3. Troublemakers
    By: Allison K. Garcia
    999 words

    A baseball-sized hole now carved the glass of a second-story window of an old Victorian home. One lopsided shutter dangled beneath, stagnant in the thick, summer air. Luis stared up, his insides trembling with a combination of excitement and fear. “Are you sure no one lives here, Bobby?”

    “Nah.” Bobby kicked at a loose step on the front porch, letting up a cloud of dirt. “See that? It’s empty. Been empty for as long as I’ve lived in the neighborhood.”

    “What’s that, like, two years?” Maggie snorted and rolled her eyes. A year and a half older than Bobby and heading to high school in the fall, she normally didn’t participate in Luis and Bobby’s adventures, but it seemed like her curiosity of the abandoned house had overcome any sense of superiority. “What a wealth of experience you’ve got to draw on.”

    “Shut up.” Bobby bounded up the stairs and stood at the top, a triumphant sneer on his face. “You’ve heard the stories, too.”

    Everyone had heard the stories. There were too many to count and each one worse than the last. An old hermit. A dead baby. A crazy aunt left to die in the attic. Murdered newlyweds. Presences. Spirits. Ghosts.

    None of them confirmed, Luis reminded himself as he placed a cautious foot on each stair and made it up to the rickety front porch. He looked back at Maggie, who had hesitated with one sandaled foot on the first step.

    “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” She frowned up at the window.

    “What? Are you afraid?” Bobby taunted.

    Maggie shoved her hands on her hips and cocked her head to the side. “You wish.”

    Moments later, they all stood together, facing the front door.

    “Maybe we should knock,” Luis suggested. “You know, just in case.”

    Maggie ran her index finger over the doorknob and held it up. Dust caked the tip. “I think it’s safe to assume no one’s in there.”

    Bobby twisted the knob and shrugged. “If no one wanted us here, they would’ve locked us out.” His face glowed red as the door didn’t budge. “It must be stuck.” He bumped against it with his shoulder.

    The heavy door loosened, creaking open.

    Still standing in the doorway, Luis glanced inside. Streaks of sunlight poured in through slits in the shuttered windows, leaving beams of dusty air zigzagging like a high-tech security system. The furniture lay dormant under greying sheets.

    Bobby took a deep breath and stepped over the threshold. “Come on. It’s just an empty house.”

    Luis jumped as something encircled his arm.

    “Sorry.” Maggie blushed. “I think we should stick together.”

    Luis’s pulse raced. He swallowed hard. “Good idea.”

    They stepped as one into the foyer.

    “Close the door behind you.” Bobby’s hushed tone fell flat in the stagnant air.

    Maggie glanced back. “I think we should leave it open. You know, for light.”

    “Too late.” Bobby smirked.

    The door creaked closed behind them.

    Maggie squeezed Luis’s arm even tighter.

    “It’s okay.” Luis grimaced until she loosened her grip. “Probably just the wind.”

    “What wind?” Maggie whispered.

    Particles of dirt stood still in a ray of light, suspended in the stale air in front of them.
    Luis pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. “I have a flashlight app.” He pushed the buttons but nothing happened. A wave of fear dropped heavy in his stomach. “The battery must have died.”

    Bobby inched forward. “We don’t need it. I can see the stairs over there.”

    Luis couldn’t see his face but noticed Bobby sounded less confident than a moment before.

    Something creaked above their heads.

    Bobby backed into them, and Luis grabbed onto his T-shirt.

    “What was that?” Luis whispered.

    “It sounds like someone’s up there.” Maggie’s voice was muffled as her face pressed into Bobby’s shoulder. “I don’t like this. What if there’s some crazy person living up there?”

    “She has a point, man.” Luis frowned as his voice cracked. “I don’t want to die over a baseball.”

    “It’s not just any baseball.” Bobby groaned. “It’s the one I caught at the Yankees game last year.”

    Maggie clicked her tongue. “Then why the heck were you playing with it?”

    “I don’t know.” Bobby shrugged. “It’s cool.”

    Luis sighed and stood up straight. “Well, then let’s get this over with.” He pushed them forward, and they inched into the depths of the decrepit house.

    They reached the stairs and climbed them with as much speed and silence as a huddled mass can achieve.

    Above them, at a distance, a faint murmur arose.

    Everyone stopped. For a moment no one breathed.

    Though he wanted to turn back, Luis was compelled forward. “It’s gotta be the air through the broken window.”

    Through the murmur, an infrequent thud sounded.

    “The shutter,” Luis heard himself say.

    “It sounds like a word,” Maggie whispered at the top of the stairs. “I can’t make it out.”

    “I think it’s coming from down the hall.” Bobby pointed a shaking finger.

    They cowered together and tiptoed down the creaky hallway, leaving a trail of hesitant footsteps in the dusty, wooden floor.

    A faded red armchair faced the window. A ball sailed straight up from behind the chair to a foot above the tall, cushioned back. It suspended in the air for a second, then gravity pulled it back down. It thudded and rose again.

    “Troublemakers,” a raspy, hushed voice twirled around them in the air. “You children never let me rest in peace.”

    “Hello?” Maggie’s voice was weak. “We just came for our ball. I’m sorry we broke your window. We’ll pay for it, I swear, and then we’ll never bother you again.”
    The ball landed with a leathery thud.

    A thick, heavy silence surrounded them, and then something cold, like ice, passed through Luis’s body. The three of them gasped.

    From behind them came the same hoarse voice. “Troublemakers. The whole lot of you.”

    On the chair sat a cracked, dusty mitt with Bobby’s baseball in the center.

  4. Patriotic Bloomers
    Tamara Shoemaker
    @Tamara Shoemaker
    Word Count: 994

    Lacin’ up ladies’ bloomers was harder than it looked in the Sears Roebuck catalog that interrupted the dust canopy on Mama’s dresser.

    “Shouldn’t it be tied a mite tighter? It’s gonna have strings wavin’ in the breeze like them crepe paper streamers.”

    “Just gimme a minute. I’m nigh on there.”

    The rough bristles of the rope burned my hands as I fought with getting’ the durned thing figured out. This rope was only one of hundreds on the marina, all of ’em connected to the boats’ foremasts and mainsails, swayin’ in the breeze as the boardwalk dipped and swayed under our bare feet. Peerin’ up, it looked like a giant maypole or some other such gidget streamin’ down to the railings below.

    “When’s the band ‘sposed to get here?” Doc pushed the wire rims up on the tip of his snub nose and squinted through ’em at the pink, polka-dotted bloomers that now rippled in the breeze. “We ain’t got much time till the boat race.”

    “Soon.” I tied the last knot, hopin’ it was gonna stay this time. My sister Jane was gonna be madder’n a swarm of homeless hornets when she found out what we was up to, but I figured turn about’s fair play. She’d given me the sharp end of her tongue once or twice too many. “Done.”

    Doc grinned, his cheeks folding back on themselves so he coulda been identical twins with my bulldog, Skunk. It was a funny name for a dog, ’cause people’d get confused as to what animal we was referrin’ to, but he did stink somethin’ awful. “Think your sister’s gonna see it right off?”

    I shrugged, a twinge of guilt swingin’ through my stomach. “Probably ain’t nobody gonna notice it. It’s only gonna hang right there at the bow of the boat, and most people’ll think it’s a pretty pink pennant when the boat comes ’round the turn at the end, if they see it a’tall.”

    “You think she’ll be mad?”

    “Not for keeps.” Though I weren’t quite sure if I were right on that account.

    Noise behind us jerked our attention back to the head of the pier, and we hustled off them boards right quick. People was comin’ in swarms, picnic baskets over their arms, smells of fried chicken and corn pone waftin’ right outta them lids. My stomach set up a chorus of growlin’ that woulda given Skunk some tough competition if he’da been there.

    I looked ’round for Mama and Jane. They hadn’t arrived yet, but Papa stood at the head of the pier, lookin’ over his notes for his speech. He was ‘sposed to talk ’bout the Declaration and then lead the Pledge ‘fore the Mayor got up for his piece.

    Papa glanced up at me and wiped his shiny forehead with his big, red handkerchief. “Land sakes, Jacob, where you been?” He pointed off in the opposite direction. “Your mama’s been callin’ for you nigh on half an hour.”

    I elbowed Doc, and we slunk into the crowd, losin’ ourselves ‘tween loaded baskets and barkin’, wrestlin’ dogs.

    The band struck up “Dixie,” and Doc and me turned to watch the action, findin’ front row seats on the edge of the lake.

    Papa weren’t long-winded; that was some comfort. There’s a whole passel more fun things to do on a hot Independence Day than listen to blusterin’ men in suits draggin’ on ’bout liberty and such. Papa stood on the end of that pier, strainin’ his voice so’s everyone in the crowd could heard him. I noticed Mama and Jane a coupla hundred feet to my left, sittin’ on a blanket with a basket. I wondered if I’d be able to sneak any chicken early. I pushed the drool to the back of my mouth and swallowed.

    The band got my attention again when they started playin’ the National Anthem. Everybody round me stood, and every last one of us stuck our hands on our chests, ’cause that’s what you do when the flag goes up.

    ‘Cept instead of the Stars and Stripes floatin’ slowly up the line, a pair of pink, polka-dotted lady’s bloomers snapped in the brisk breeze to the triumphant strains of “Oh say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave . . . ”

    My stomach dropped down to my toes, and lower, if that were possible.

    Whispers, giggles and gasps slowly took over the song, so that “land of the free and home of the brave” sorta died out in a wave of cacklin’ laughter. I risked a glance over at my sister.

    Her cheeks looked like fire had taken holda them; two bright, red splotches splashed ‘cross her cheeks. She stared at the ground in front of her, and her fingers curled up into fists.

    Panic sizzled through my brain right then, and a tiny part of me wondered if I’d make it home alive.

    The laughter’d gotten so loud, the band was kinda smothered under it all. Guilt swarmed over me, stingin’ me in all the right places. I took a half step toward the pier, decidin’ I needed to make it right.

    The mayor’s carryin’ voice boomed over the lake at that fortuitous moment. “What disagreeable cad has draped a pair of my wife’s bloomers to the flag rope?”

    I swung my gaze to the horrified mayor’s wife, whose scarlet cheeks peeped from behind gloved hands, who had visited our home only the week before with a package for my sister—a little somethin’ she could borrow ’til her order arrived.

    There weren’t no boat race that year. And I weren’t allowed to set foot outside my own door for the next month ‘lessin I was in the company of my Papa or Mama. And on no ‘count could Doc and me play ’til school started again.

    When we could hang around together again, we did lots of snickerin’ behind our fingers ’bout them pink patriotic bloomers.

  5. Those Summer Nights

    “Holy sh— Freddie, we’ve gone and done it now.”

    Freddie looked over at his brother, older by just about eleven months. As befitting an older brother he worried about everything. In the moonlight, he could see J.M.’s face all scrunched up, and for what? A couple of state cops. J.M. was the first one to like a good prank, but let there be a hint of getting caught; and he was a nervous Nellie.

    “Relax, J.M.,” Freddie said. “We didn’t do nothing wrong, exactly.”

    Farm work kept you occupied from summer dawn until summer dusk, but that left summer nights for hell-raising. Well, not that a couple of teenagers and their twelve-year-old sister could do much of that in a county where every sheriff’s deputy knew their step-daddy too well.

    “Freddie’s right. We didn’t do a thing wrong,” said Fee, and Freddie smiled. She was truly the most adventurous of the three of them, and tonight had been all her idea.

    * * *

    “I thought we’d ride the horses over Devil’s Ridge and buy some of old man Bruce’s liquor,” Freddie said.

    “Not with Fee along,” J.M. replied.

    “J.M., you act like I’m a baby and never had no moonshine before,” Fee said.

    Tall and gangly for twelve, she was a tomboy, to their momma’s regret. Their oldest sister, already married and starting her own brood, had no time to teach Fee “girly things,” as Fee always said, her lip curled in distaste. The youngest three of ten siblings, she, J.M., and Freddie had bonded with each other more than their older siblings, especially after their father died when Fee was just two and their stepfather came into their lives. J.M. and Freddie seemed to be the only ones who noticed just the way their stepfather looked at Fee. Without letting on, they made sure she was never alone with him.

    “We’re not getting ‘shine with you along,” J.M. said.

    “Well, then, I got an idea for a trick we can play,” Fee said.

    Fee’s pranks were the best, by and large, unexpected because she was so young.

    “Let’s hear it,” Freddie said.

    “Well, we ride to that crossroads with the big tree,” Fee said. “We take some rope, and you two hang me from that branch overhanging the road just as the Culpeper to Charlottesville bus comes ‘round the turn. The moon’ll be behind me and everything, and we’ll make all those folks on the bus piss their pants.”

    “We are not hanging you from no tree,” J.M. declared.

    “Ease up, J.M.,” said Freddie. “We’re not gonna really hang her.”

    “I’ll unbraid my hair, hang my head to one side, and let my tongue hang out,” Fee said and demonstrated. Even J.M. laughed at the sight.

    “I’ll make a sling for her arms with the rope,” Freddie said, “and she can put a jacket over it, so’s no one can see it.” Freddie turned to his sister. “You know how to make it better?”

    “How?”

    “Wear one of momma’s skirts so it’s obvious you’re a girl.”

    “No!”

    “It’ll be perfect.”

    * * *

    “There’s two cop cars, Freddie. Dang it,” J.M. said. “Let’s just get on the horses and get out of here.”

    When the Greyhound bus had come barreling around the curve and its headlights fell on Fee hanging from that tree, Freddie and J.M. had just about peed their own pants at the sights and sounds from the bus. The driver went white as a ghost and almost slewed the bus sideways trying to stop. The two boys had laughed themselves silly at how long it took the driver to turn the bulky Greyhound around in the narrow road. When its taillights were out of sight, he and J.M. lowered Fee to the ground and rolled up the rope.

    “Lord, I almost busted a gut trying not to laugh,” she said.

    “All right, then, we had our fun. Let’s go home,” J.M. said.

    “J.M., don’t be such an old woman,” Fee told him. “We got to wait and see what happens.”

    What happened was the two cop cars vexing J.M. and a whole bunch of townspeople with lanterns and rifles ready to search for a poor young thing what got hanged from a creaky old tree. The two state cops were shining their flashlights up into the tree and in the weeds on either side of the road. Freddie had coveted those flashlights for a long time.

    “Fee,” he whispered, “braid your hair and get your jeans back on. Then, mount up and follow my lead.”

    J.M. had stopped muttering by the time the three siblings rode their horses into the scene.

    “Who’s there?” demanded one of the state cops.

    Breathless, Freddie said, “We was going to ride to get you! We saw the guy! He drug that woman down toward the river!”

    “Which way?” the cop asked.

    All three pointed. “We can join the search, if you like,” said J.M., fully into it now. “We can cover a lot of ground on our horses.”

    The state cop shined the flashlight on their faces. “Who’d you say you were?” he asked.

    “James Madison Duncan and Frederick Winfrey Duncan,” said Freddie. “And this here’s our sister Fiona. We can help you look, but we got no lanterns or flashlights. If you loan us one of yours, we’ll search upriver while you search down.”

    The two cops looked at each other and shrugged; then, one switched his flash off and handed it over. Freddie hefted it in his hand, liking the weight of it. He’d make certain Fee kept this under her pillow in case— Well, he didn’t want to think about step-daddy coming into her room.

    The three galloped off in the direction they’d indicated, waited until they were out of sight, then rode home, Fee already planning a prank that would be even better.

    @Unspywriter (Maggie Duncan)
    997 words

  6. “That Billy”
    by Kristen Falso-Capaldi
    982 words
    @kristenafc

    “That Billy, he’s a thief.”
    Mike’s parents didn’t like Billy.
    “That Billy, he’s a thug.”
    “So? So is Uncle George,” thought Mike.

    One summer morning, Billy, Mike and the boys watched an old man walk the length of the beach, running his metal detector along the sand. Every once in a while, a rapid series of beeps would compete with the wind and the gulls, and the man’s face would erupt in a toothless smile, then he’d dig with his hands in the dirt, dust off his treasure.
    That’s when his face would change. Billy would laugh at the hungry look in the old man’s eye, and the others would follow.
    It was Billy who suggested they start planting stuff in the sand, junk they found in their fathers’ workshops or under the cushions of their mothers’ sofas.

    “That Billy, he’s always up to no good. And you just follow him.”
    True. Mike knew that before the end of the week, he’d be planting junk in the sand and watching the old man pick it up. Laughing.

    On Friday, they met at seven in the morning. They walked in a wavy line, burying the spoils of their scavenger hunt: nuts and bolts, screws, broken watches and tarnished necklaces. After, they headed to the corner store and bought a bag of penny candy; Swedish Fish, Squirrel Nuts and Pixy Stix.
    Then they waited.
    The man waved at them, his hand a map of bulging veins and arthritic knobs, and Billy waved back, wearing his most innocent smile. Billy was fair and freckled; They were all fair and freckled, but their skin was growing pink from the summer sun. Mike thought the old man looked familiar.
    First, the man stooped with effort to pick up an old watch that belonged to Tommy’s father, its face cracked, forever frozen at 10:45. He tossed it aside. The boys held their laughter. Next, there was a broken screw driver, buried at least a foot down by Dave that very morning; again, the old man dug with his hands, his eyes greedy. They watched as he sprung upon treasure after treasure, listening to the beeps of his metal detector as he stopped, dug, then moved on. Billy was beside himself with joy. But Mike felt something else. He knew what they were doing was mean, but it wasn’t that.

    “That Billy, he’s a crook.”
    “So is Uncle George,” said Mike.
    A slap against his jaw.
    “Never talk that way about family. And stop hanging out with that Billy. That Billy is going to be your downfall.”

    Each morning, the boys would meet, bury their junk, pool their money and buy penny candy, then they’d sit and wait. Everyday, a wave of veins and knobby joints, then the beep, the hope and the digging; tarnished chains, broken tie clips, rusty nails, small engine parts, a piece of a model car, some broken old toy. An empty bucket. Always the bucket empty as the man made his way down the beach away from them.
    “Damn, this guy is picky about his junk,” Billy said. “What the hell’s he looking for?”
    The others nodded in agreement.

    One day, the old man followed the usual routine, but when he got to a particular ring one of them had buried, Mike noticed his face held onto the hope a bit longer. His hands were under the dirt, and his fingers had touched metal, he pulled the ring to the surface and held it up in the sun. For a few moments, the glow in his eyes stayed. He looked relieved. Then, just like that, he was crestfallen again.
    Mike didn’t like this game anymore.

    Later that day, Mike was working at his family’s bakery when the old man came in, ordered a coffee and sat in the corner, staring out the window.
    “Who is that guy?” Mike asked his sister Teresa.
    “It’s sad. His wife died a few months ago,” she whispered. “Uncle George has her wedding ring. She pawned it when she found out she was sick. She told her husband she lost it on the beach.”
    And then, Mike remembered. He’d seen the old man sitting in that exact spot with his wife. Then, behind the counter at his uncle’s pawnshop: The old woman, shaky hands pulling the ring off her finger. Tears in her eyes and Uncle George, scooping it in his big paw across the counter.
    “That’s all you can give me for it?”
    “That’s all it’s worth.”

    Mike told the boys about the ring.
    “We ought to stop,” he said. “It’s mean.”
    “What a sissy,” Billy said. “You know where the ring is? Why don’t you palm it and give it back to the guy?”
    “I can’t do that,” Mike said. “My uncle–My parents would–”
    “Aw, come on, boys,” Billy said, and Tommy and Dave followed.

    The next morning, the boys sat chomping on candy, mashing bits of red and brown in their teeth. Then, the beep, the hope and the digging. On three occasions, the man dug, smiled and lifted a wedding ring up into the sunlight, then dropped it to the ground.
    Tommy’s mouth dropped open, then Dave’s.
    More beeps. The man continued to dig. A smile. But this time, as he pulled his hands from the dirt, his face didn’t change.
    “Thank you,” he whispered to no one, or to the sky, or to the sand.
    Tommy and Dave looked at Mike, their eyes wide.
    “No–” he said. “I didn’t–It wasn’t–” And it wasn’t him. Mike had been awake all night, praying for a solution.
    “Aw, shut up,” Billy said. “We all know it was you.”
    “But it wasn’t–”
    Mike caught Billy’s eye and shut his mouth.
    Mike knew there would be a broken lock at Uncle George’s pawnshop.
    That the ring case would be empty.
    And that Billy was a thief.

  7. Them No Good Boys
    Margaret Locke (@Margaret_Locke or margaretlocke.com)
    997 words

    We didn’t mean for it to happen.

    Not that anyone’d believe us if they knew. Them No Good Boys, they called us, always up to somethin’. Mama laughed it off; she never saw us the way everybody else did.

    We weren’t brothers. Not blood, leastways. Jimmy’s pa told him things was better when he weren’t around, so Jimmy stayed here. He carried a knife. “For protection,” he said. That thing couldn’t hurt anyone, really. No matter. It made Jimmy feel better.

    Neighbor Billy was the oldest of us, fourteen. He’d lost two brothers to the coal mines already. “Next year’s my turn,” he’d say with a grin that never quite reached his eyes.

    Piper was the quiet one. Maybe ‘cause he was the youngest – only nine. His da’d left when he was two. He lived with his ma and sisters out by the river. He liked our house better.

    Not that we had much. Pa was always tryin’ to sell something to somebody, stuff we never could afford ourselves. Ice boxes. Auto-mobiles. Mama’d just shake her head, love in her eyes. But love didn’t put food on the table.

    “Sam,” she’d tell me, “God works in mysterious ways. He finds solutions when all hope is lost.”

    I wasn’t so sure. If God was takin’ care of us, how come we never had nothing? How come everyone complained about us, callin’ us delinquents?

    It wasn’t like we ever done anything really bad. Stealin’ Mrs. Parson’s nightgown off her line to see if all four of us could fit in it (we did) didn’t count, did it? Or when Billy used his dad’s blacking to paint Farmer Davis’s white nag? “I told MaryBeth Whitnum he had a zebra,” Billy’d explained. The horse had raised a ruckus after only two stripes. Farmer Davis never caught us.

    He knew, though. Everybody knew. They told mama we needed some sense switched into us. She’d roll her eyes behind their backs. She knew we weren’t No Good, just boys seekin’ somethin’ to do in a place with nothin’ to offer.

    This time was different, though.

    Piper had showed up this mornin’, his eyes worried.

    “What’s up?” Jimmy’d asked, pokin’ him in the side. Sometimes they didn’t get along.

    Piper glared at him. “It’s Lily.” Lily and her mama lived in a crumbling cabin ‘cross from Piper. I knew he was sweet on her. I suspected Jimmy was, too – another reason he an’ Piper needled each other.

    Lily often showed up at school with fat lips or black eyes. She’d say she fell down. We knew better. Her dad was the town drunk.

    “She gots a broken arm. I saw her mama fixin’ it up in a sling this morning. Lily was bawlin’ somethin’ fierce, and her mama was shushing her. I knew she was worried Hunspecker’d hear.” At the mention of Leroy Hunspecker, Piper spit on the ground.

    Billy scowled. “We gotta do something!”

    “What?” I asked. There was silence.

    “Break his still!” Piper exclaimed after a minute, his face lighting up. “Then he can’t drink no more!”

    Hunspecker brewed his own ‘cause he couldn’t afford the tavern.

    So we set out that night, four rag-tag boys wantin’ to right at least one wrong in the world.

    Hidden behind a gooseberry bush, armed with slingshots and Billy’s pellet gun, we shot at the wooden barrels behind the cabin. Jimmy crowed when moonshine flowed from the holes we’d made.

    Then Piper ran into the yard. What was he doin’? “Piper!” I whispered urgently. He ignored me, stopping instead to pick up a rusty axe. He raced forward and began hacking at the still.

    The door to the shack slammed open. “What the devil!” hollered a voice. Leroy Hunspecker emerged, carryin’ his rifle. When he saw the still, he roared. He lifted the gun, aimin’ at Piper, who scrambled for the woods.

    Jimmy shot another rock, striking Leroy in the elbow. Leroy whipped around. Jimmy stood rooted to the spot, a trail of urine darkening his pants.

    “You’re dead!” The voice came closer. “You hear me? DEAD!”

    We watched, frozen, as Hunspecker’s foot caught on somethin’ in the yard and he tripped, dropping the rifle, which fired. Hearing the shot, our paralysis was broken, and we leapt up, racing away fast as we could.

    We heard nothin’ else.

    We stopped only when we reached home. Piper was already there. Lungs heavin’, legs tremblin’, we made sure we was all OK. Tears streamed down our faces, unacknowledged.

    “Why didn’t he come after us?” Billy finally said. We had no answer. We entered the house quietly as we could, not wantin’ to wake mama, and headed for bed.

    The next mornin’ when I walked into the kitchen, mama jumped. “Goodness, you scared me,” she said, hand over her heart. “I have news. Leroy Hunspecker died last night. Apparently he fell on an iron rake left in the yard. It went right through his head.” She paused. “Who’d’ve thought anything could penetrate that bastard’s thick skull?”

    I said nothin’. What could I say? My mind raced. Did she know we’d been there? Did anyone?

    She came over to me, studying my face. “The Lord works in mysterious ways,” she said after a moment, smoothing the hair on my head. “I’m glad you boys weren’t anywhere near there. He was a dangerous man.”

    We saw Lily at the funeral. She stood, expressionless, clutchin’ her mama’s hand. Afterwards she came over to us. “I saw you. I saw you break the still,” she whispered to Piper, who flushed beet-red, unable to deny it. A smile spread over her face. “Thank you,” she added before runnin’ back to her mama.

    I can’t help thinkin’ that what happened that night was good. Not for Old Man Hunspecker, of course. But for Lily. And maybe for us No Good boys, too. We felt we’d saved someone.

    We know two wrongs don’t make a right. But sometimes they make all the difference.

  8. The Mysterious Ceramic Garden.
    Only our folks called us by our real names. I’m Sniff. My dad once told me I sniffed out trouble better than anyone. My best pal’s Butch. He’s smaller and figured other kids wouldn’t pick on him with a tough name. Momo got his name moaning about everything. Dumb Bobby didn’t mind his nickname ‘cause he’s does dumb things that mostly turn out funny.
    We had nothin’ to do and nothin’ to see in the little town of Painted Bridge. Summer heat pressed down on us like it wanted to turn us into puddles on the hot sidewalk.

    “Let’s go somewhere,” Dumb Bobby said.

    Painted Bridge was just about a mile square and we had walked every inch of it. Except—

    “For what? Nothin’s here. And it’s too hot.”

    Dumb Bobby laughed. He had another dumb idea. “Come on you guys, we ain’t been to that spooky house where that old lady lives. We’re best pals. It’ll be fun. Four kids having fun, what’s wrong with that?”

    “No way!” Butch said.

    Momo barked one of his long moans. “Hey, don’t you remember what our folks and even our teachers told us about that place! It’s evil! They said she does things too terrible to repeat to kids. Nobody even goes there for Trick or Treat.”

    My mom said Missus Wicherly had everything delivered and never left the house. “Ah, they tell that stuff so we won’t go there and get home before the curfew siren goes off. Same thing about the bridge coming into town. They don’t want us playing there so they tell stories about ghosts who died there haunting. It’s a trick, Momo.”

    Dumb Bobby laughed again. “Come on Momo, Butch. Sniff, you ain’t scared, are you?”

    Oh yeah? I followed, with Momo and Butch right behind. We marched up Bridge Street and tried to soak some shade in the storefronts but the owners kept chasing us. We got to the top where the street ended at a bunch of trees and a squiggly dirt path. Trees blocked the sun but it was too quiet and I got that itchy feeling I get when things don’t seem right.

    The path went left and then we were in the hot sun again, standing across the street with no name and there it was. The house.

    It was ugly. Paint peeling everywhere and roof shingles missing. Too many windows, all dirty with dark curtains. A rusty iron fence on three sides except in the back where trees climbed up over the roof and blocked out the sun so the house and garden was shaded. But the shade looked darker to me.

    “Wow,” Dumb Bobby said, “look at all them windows. Just waitin’ for a rock.” He picked one up and held it out and sighted along his arm like I taught him at one of the windows, then reared back and let it fly. The rock sailed into the shadows and missed everything. Dumb Bobby’s mouth hung open.

    “You can’t throw,” I said. I picked up another rock. Same thing. The rock went somewhere, no sound of hitting anything, and was gone. Butch threw one and Momo moaned and threw with his eyes closed. “I told you, this is weird.”

    “Shut up Momo,” I said, cheesed off about missing. My Mom told a neighbor Missus Wicherly made ugly little statues for her garden. Toadstools and big mushrooms and frogs and spiders and lizards and who knew what else. “Let’s sneak in the garden and grab some of them statues and take off.”

    “Yeah,” Butch said, “and I’ll ring her doorbell and run. Be out the gate before she opens the door.”

    The gate latch was rusted too. When I pulled the gate open it made a loud creak that made us jump. Inside I had to squint to see through that goofy shade. Nothing but weeds grew. And the statues were all over, maybe a hundred of them. I looked at the house and thought I saw the curtains move in the window next to the front door but I wasn’t sure.

    “Let’s do it and get the heck outta here,” I whispered.

    That’s when it started. Dumb Bobby yelled “Whoa! I’m takin’ that spider,” but when he bent down the white spider moved and climbed his pants and shirt and zipped to his shoulder. Dumb Bobby danced and jiggled and fell down rolling over the weeds and knocking down statues. Butch was almost at the porch steps when he passed a coiled snake statue. It uncoiled and slithered after him, jaws open as he ran like heck. Momo turned to help Dumb Bobby but a long tailed lizard came alive and chased him.

    I froze and rubbed my eyes ‘cause I didn’t believe what I was seeing. A squeak came from my right and all of a sudden a bat statue flapped its wings and flew up and dive bombed me. I joined in the crazy dance with my friends, waving my arms above my head.

    We were scattered when the front door creaked open and the statue creatures disappeared. In the dimly lit doorway a figure stood. She wore a long black dress. Her stringy gray hair drooped to her shoulders, and a hooked nose hung over a toothless mouth. A cackle drummed at my ears. Dumb Bobby jumped up, yelled “Nyah nyah!” and yanked his pants down and mooned her. Before we scrambled to run I saw her grin and raise her arms high. A flash brighter than the sun lit up the shade and everything stopped.

    Now we’re stuck here forever in the garden, four little statue gnomes with beards and apple red cheeks. In front of me Momo is frozen, one leg up, the other behind, trying to reach the gate. Butch is running in place. I’m staring at a cross-eyed swan and wondering who it used to be. At least we’re not facing dumb Bobby’s backside.

    @rfmaraz38
    992 Words

    • This was a great mixture of fun, excitement, tension, worry, adventure and mischief. As already mentioned by a previous comment, I also loved the ‘puddle’ line. The competition is richer for your take on the theme. Great job.

  9. “Gone Hunting”
    John Mark Miller – 1,000 words
    @JohnMark_Miller

    “Wanna see somethin’, boys? I lifted this from the Old Man.” Jasper beamed with pride as he yanked a pocketknife from his trousers and flicked it open.

    We’d been horsing around, but now Pauley’s eyes bulged. “Jeepers!” he cried, his voice cracking like a girl’s. “What’d you do that, for?”

    Jasper jerked his head behind him, in the direction of Wet Rat Swamp. “We came to catch a criminal, didn’t we?”

    I could tell he was dead serious, and my stomach did a flip. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.

    “That puny ol’ thing couldn’t make a squirrel cry,” I said quickly. “Put it away before someone gets hurt, will ya?”

    The boy’s dirt-smudged eyes narrowed, but he obeyed. “You gettin’ nervous on me, Nerdbrains? Thought you might chicken out.”

    All eyes turned to me, the tallest and oldest of the group. I was nervous alright, but didn’t want to ruin everybody’s fun. “I’m not chicken,” I said. “But we can’t go huntin’ for nobody if you cut your finger off and start howlin’ like a stuck pig!”

    Then, just for good measure, I muttered, “Dogbreath.”

    Jasper’s face reddened, and the gang had a good laugh. Then we got serious as we gazed at the tall weeds and cattails leading into the swamp. Pauley gulped so hard I could hear it.

    A truck rattled to a stop behind us, and Ranger Carl leaned out of his window. “What you boys, up to?”

    We couldn’t help but snicker at the word “boys.” Becca was Pauley’s twin sister, but liked to hide her hair in a cap so she could tag along with us.

    “Nothin’,” Jasper said, sounding guilty as a mouse in a trap.

    Ranger Carl lit a cigarette. “That’s good. You all better run on home now,” he said, blowing a puff of blue smoke. “There’s a dangerous criminal on the loose. Escaped from the state prison up the road a piece.”

    We tried to act surprised. I don’t think we really pulled it off.

    Carl’s eyes narrowed. “What’re you all doin’ up here by the swamp, anyways?”

    Jasper’s eyes widened, and he suddenly lost his tongue.

    I sighed, adjusting my glasses. “We’re just lookin’ for arrowheads,” I said calmly, and the Ranger nodded. Maybe it was the glasses, but adults typically trusted me to tell the truth.

    “Alright,” Ranger Carl coughed, stamping out his cigarette. “Well get on home, hear?”

    “Yessir,” we chimed in unison.

    We stood in solemn silence until the Ranger’s old truck rattled out of sight. As soon as he was gone, Jasper cried, “Hey, where’s my knife?”

    Becca, the best pickpocket in the county, produced it with a grin. “Sly as a fox,” she gloated.

    We all laughed. Then, with a whoop and a holler, we raced each other into the swamp.

    We were gonna catch ourselves a criminal!

    ____________________________________

    Things fell apart when Becca fell into the bog. We were walkin’ along when Becca’s foot plunged right through a clump of dry moss and she fell headlong into a pool of filthy lake water.

    “Help! I can’t swim!” she shrieked, splashing wildly.

    We all started screamin’ at once, but somehow we managed to find a giant tree limb and pull her to safety. She was alright, but she was shivering like crazy. I started barking orders, and we gathered a pile of dry brush and used a smooth stone and Jasper’s pocketknife to make a spark, just like we did for Scouts. Pretty soon we had a good campfire blazing, and Becca was lookin’ a little less white.

    We were actually smiling again when a loud “click” sounded behind us. I thought I might vomit. I knew that sound.

    Someone had cocked a pistol.

    A burly man with a scruffy beard stepped out of the weeds, a gun leveled right at us. “Put the fire out,” he growled. “Now.”

    Pauley screeched like a girl and scrambled to throw dirt on the fire, while Jasper leaped to his feet.

    “You leave them alone, or I’ll kill you!” Jasper hollered.

    The man thought that was funny, but not for long. With a crazy yell, Jasper pulled his pocketknife and ran towards the outlaw.

    A gunshot blasted loud enough to make my head spin, and Jasper fell to the ground, clutching his right leg. I have to say this about Jasper. He was a fool, but he sure was brave.

    My mind spun as the criminal bent over to retrieve the knife, and I whispered a few things into my friends’ ears. By the time the man turned around, I was blowing life back into the campfire.

    “Stop that, boy” the man grunted, swinging his pistol.

    I laughed, trying to sound courageous. “Go ahead, keep firing that thing. Lead the coppers right to us!”

    The man crept toward me like a hungry mountain lion, shoving the gun into his back pocket. “You think you’re real smart, don’t you? Good thing your friend here just gave me a knife.”

    I glared as he took my glasses and smashed them. “What you say now, boy?”

    But it was Becca who spoke. “Sly as a fox!” she taunted, waving the man’s pistol. She tossed it to Pauley, who caught it and shot off into the weeds.

    Cursing loudly, the man punched my face – hard – and ran off after him. I held my breath until I heard Pauley’s signal. Three gunshots. He had done it… he had led the man straight to the bog.

    ____________________________________

    The cops saw the smoke from our fire and followed the sound of the gunshots to find the escaped convict splashing in the bog, begging for his life.

    “I’m gonna get those kids,” he kept sputtering.

    Ranger Carl whistled when he saw my swollen eye. “You boys are in a heap of trouble,” he said, “but I sure am proud of what you done.”

    I walked over to Jasper. “You alright?”

    “Yeah,” he grinned. “Thanks to you. Good job, Nerdbrains.”

    I smiled. “You too, Dogbreath.”

    • Very enjoyable, especially the chemistry between the characters. I think Becca has a future in more stories to come. Loved “Wet Rat Swamp” – reminds me of somewhere I know 🙂

      • Thanks! My real life sister’s name is Becca, and while we never caught a criminal, we really did head across a swamp one summer! (But let’s just say my dad’s reaction was a little more severe than Ranger Carl’s)…thanks for the feedback!

    • I like the characters, too, especially the main character. The detail of the adults trusting him because of his glasses is great. A well structured piece that you conclude beautifully.

      • Thanks, Marie! I started wearing glasses in 1st grade, and know all too well how they can cause other kids to ridicule you but adults to view you as responsible and trustworthy (which I’ll admit, I used to my advantage a time or two!) …thanks so much for reading!

  10. Words: 994
    “Moving Past the Trees”

    Coolness in her laugh, brightness in her eyes, that’s what imprisoned me. When I was a child, love was a chain—I wrapped myself in it, tightly.

    July into August, the trees bore fruit. But this was grid-laid subdivision, not romantic countryside. The clumped trees were in a park, the playground had swings and a slide, and in truth they were no apple trees, but stubby, crab-apple trees. The trees decorated the park, though they were ugly, the fruit scrawny, not so good as fruit from a bowl.

    Maybe I was seven, when I met her—I was seven when we moved to that house. My address inverted, from 1012 on Montgomery to 2101 on Birch . . . how do freakish coincidences really just happen? I didn’t feel so backwards, I had found a new freedom: by then, I’d run loose, I was riding a bike.

    My little bike carried me, up, and then down, rolling on hills of our bright neighborhood—the countryside was there, too, just past the fence. Sleek farm horses grazed by the ramshackle wires, and often we fed them orange carrots. Now, I do wonder, did the farm owners mind?

    When I was still young, I never wondered who minded. I held but one thought, one thing that I knew. It burned like red coal in the core of my being: that pretty girl, from the house above the trees? She was the one, the girl for me.

    I could never say how we became friends. I’ll never know why she paid attention to me. We played tag on that playground, our peers running and laughing, they scurried up the slide, ducked through boulders on the turf. But where did these giant boulders come from? Why did the builders strew them on the grass? They lay like huge seashells, and our park was a green beach. I was a child, I never asked myself questions. My head had no room, I had filled it to bursting. I swelled full of zeal for my beautiful friend: Phoebe.

    Phoebe was beautiful, in all ways possible to describe, and some others I never could. To sound out her name filled me with joy. By the time I reached 13, she was already 14—though I was mad for Michelle Pfeiffer, a movie starlet on TV, Phoebe . . . was better still by half. Phoebe even looked like Michelle. She wore the same hair, wheat-blonde, it curled in wavy ringlets. Her eyes were shockingly bright; light glistened there softly, as if Phoebe were made of glass. Her features were soft, carved from smooth marble by a grandmaster artist, and her cheeks lifted when she smiled at me. My friend Phoebe, she had a soul; Michelle Pfeiffer was just a movie star.

    Phoebe’s soul was an old soul, and that made her beautiful, beautiful and sad. Phoebe’s mind was filled with poetry, she wrote it down and she shared with me. Each time, she hinted at strain below the surface. Must our artists be doomed to make art because of pain?

    “Life is pain,” I once heard, in those same majestic years.

    Poetry digesting, Phoebe and I sat peacefully, ten feet up, high atop the crab-apple trees. We harvested and ate as the bounty came in, fresh, red, and juicy. The taste was good, no, better, than the fruit from a bowl. Maybe that was a lie. But it was sweet; we found the best crab-apples up there, nestled on high in the tangled-up branches.

    Even at the top, I could stand even taller. I had grown up a good climber of trees, and I could pass above the heights, my head could burst the leaves. I was Bilbo, rising above Mirkwood. I beheld on high a universe of glory, its face somewhere past the blue lens of the sky.

    Those crab-apple trees bore our childhood grief, standing central and sentinel to our subdivision. In that social ecosystem, twenty kids from 7 to 17, the trees were fulcrum for a gentle war. The war waged across the aging years, fought between children of kindness and compassion, and kids who, in their misery, lashed out.

    Our neighborhood had real bullies, and our bullies were ingenious. They learned, to our dismay, that with a strong, slender stick, flicked at the wrist with a malice-fed heart, crab-apples became ammunition. “Apple throwers,” these twice-damned, hateful sticks were called. And none of my fury could stop the rotten fruit.

    Kind-hearted, compassionate kids could not prevail. Back inside they went. We stubborn holdouts had one choice left: we made apple-throwers, too, to chase our bullies away. And maybe we fooled ourselves, and maybe we were not so kind. But I wanted to fight, for Phoebe, Phoebe was the world to me.

    My world didn’t last, could never have, not any longer. Under my nose, past skinned knees, the ache of pubescence, Phoebe grew smitten by boys. And I was sunk: Phoebe was an older girl, older by one year, and it really mattered if you were just 13, or 14. Somehow, our friendship got lost. It wasn’t like the pinhead diamond I dropped on the carpet. There was no thing to search for with my magnifying glass. I could not pick it up, reclaim it, nor have it again. Lost was really gone.

    The horse fields are long since emptied, and my birthstone disappeared. I heard that Phoebe’s now a journalist; I hope that it’s true. I hope her old poet’s soul remembers, like mine does in this burning heat. “Do you remember sour fruit, the park strewn with boulders, remember the spot that we come from?” The great thinkers taught: the past is illusion—I wonder, is that the truth?

    These days, my past feels warm. It bakes lively, in summer, pressure-cooked in my brain—scorched in the sunlight, carried off by ants. My past lives like tumble-down apples, smashed on hot blacktop, my bike coasting on.

    • Some fantastic writing in here. There is a real poetic feel to the words and descriptions. A good pace to the story and clear transition from start to finish. Lovely take on the theme.

    • I love the language and the subtlety of this piece. ‘It burned like red coal…’ is wonderful and ‘Phoebe was an older girl…it really mattered if you were just 13, or 14.’ Very skilled. It’s a great take on the prompt.

  11. Froots Frum Arr Actshins (Fruits From Our Actions)
    (wc – 1000)

    Escaping the city, my brothers, Lance, Brinker and I would spend hot Louisiana summers at our grandparents. There, we couldn’t get in real trouble. It helped relieve my mom’s fear we’d be sent to the boy’s home; the threatened last stop for all bad boys.

    If you’ve never stayed in the country on a red dirt gravel road, you’ve missed some great times. These roads leave their mark, especially on young boys. Anything that disturbed the dry powdery red dirt sent up a dust cloud thicker than you could see through. Louisiana humidity only allowed the cloud to settle in slow motion, clinging to everything. Half-way through the day, our shirts would be a layer of dust topped by beads around our neck in dirt and sweat. It was the only time baths were fun taken either in a bucket of cold water from the well or by a jump in the bayou sharing a bar of ivory soap and wash rag.

    Spending the summer in the country was fun. Either we could get to go work with papaw building houses; or, stay with mammo. Fussing in French, she would send us out to hill slide in pine straw or to crawfish with a stick and salt meat bait tied to red quilting thread.

    Papaw always came home with a treat for himself and for us. Getting up from the coolest part of the porch, he’d take a swig from a gin bottle iced in his water cooler. Chasing it with a can of Dixie, he would reach into his shirt pocket for a yellow pack of Juicy Fruit. Taking a stick of gum, he’d eyeball it and tear it in half, making sure each was as equal in size as possible before handing it over. He didn’t want to show favorites.

    During the week, my parents worked in town. Daddy would get up and bring momma to her job at the J. C. Penny and pick her up at the end of his shift. They stayed in town all week and joined us on the weekends.

    Every Sunday started with a trip to church. The Baptist Church was just off the state highway. But, getting there was all red dirt and gravel roads. To help us stay clean, we rode in papaw’s 1962 Rambler Classic station wagon. It was his pride and joy with factory air condition and a three speed push button “Flashmatic” transmission. Riding in the Rambler was a little bit of heaven.

    If riding in the air conditioned Rambler was heaven, then attending the air conditioned deprived church was closer to hell. In the back, a big old circulating fan was really only good for keeping time with the a cappella singing. Cars on the roads kicked up dust that drifted close and was then fan sucked into the church. In the hot, gritty, sticky pews, the head of Jesus shook back and forth furiously as everyone attacked the heat with funeral home fans.

    This church didn’t have indoor plumbing either. Leaving the service to go to the outhouse was a treat. But, it was something kept for special reasons. When it was really hot, when the preaching was particularly boring, or your brothers were really being pest. My brothers kick fighting in a back pew made for all three reasons.

    Momma, in a whisper, ordered, “Take them with you!”

    Outside, in the parking lot, the sun’s heat was glaring off the car’s paint and layers of dust, making it only hotter. I drug my finger through the dust of the parked cars walking to the little piece of shade in the parking lot. No one locked their doors or took their keys out of the car.

    Lance says to me, “How yah thank that air cundishin feels?”

    “Reel good.”

    He goes on, “Think it’d be O-K to get in an sit?”

    “We’ll get’n truble fur that.”

    Lance challenged, “Bawlk-bawlk, chick’n-n-n, dair yah!”

    Brinker, my youngest brother added, “Bawlk-bawlk ,chick’n-n-n, duble-dawg dair yah!”

    Everybody knows that a chicken double dog dare from you brothers must be taken. We climbed in my papaw’s love.

    The raised windows were protective barriers from the dust. This made the inside as hot as an oven. The Rambler’s vinyl seats seared the back of our legs through thin Sunday pants. I turned the key and the Rambler started. None of us knew how to turn on the air condition, so we pushed buttons and turned knobs. Brinker pushed buttons for the “Flashmatic” transmission. The car jumped into gear. I turn off the key but the wagon kept rolling.

    After what seemed like forever, it rolled into the men’s outhouse

    It wasn’t a big wreck. The wagon stopped before the outhouse was knocked over; before the Rambler was baptized in outhouse blessings. The outhouse leaned a bit and was kicked just off-center the hole. Inside the church, it must of sounded like old Satan himself was paying a visit with all the screaming accusations, amateur cussing and plain hollering.

    The whole church came running. Even Mrs. Bonds who had to lie down in the church pew, managed to come out the door at the commotion. In front of the crowd, country handsome in his white shirt with dust tinged sweat stains was my daddy, the preacher. His skinny tie was loosened for the breath needed in heavy preaching. He had the “mad fire of the devil” in his eyes.

    Papaw stepped between us. Speaking with my daddy, he calmed him down, “Sun, ramember bout youse an dat plow mule. We’s all gonna get the froots frum arr actshins.”

    The devil left daddy’s eyes. Turning around, he went inside to make the altar call. He never told me about the plow mule.

    Daddy was mad for a while but he didn’t send any of us to the boy’s home. For three years, I couldn’t go pee during service.

    My papaw said he wasn’t mad. He just stopped measuring the Juicy Fruit.

  12. There was no mistaking Spuds Dawson. If his mess of stark white hair with the cowlick above his right eye didn’t give him away, his rock throwing, wild whoops, and natural habit of finding trouble did. And if those things weren’t bad enough, this was the summer he decided to learn to play the tuba.

    As he aimlessly strolled down the street looking for his next adventure and blew into the mouthpiece every few steps, curtains and blinds snapped shut. Doors slammed and deadbolts clicked. Dogs were rushed inside, and joggers and walkers made unplanned detours.

    Looking in from the outside, one would think Spuds was the sole resident of Spindleton. Not that there were many more people residing there. The total population was estimated to be around one hundred, more or less. When Spuds was around, it was mostly less.

    The perfectly trimmed hedges and rolling green lawns which led to sprawling two story shuttered homes, gave Spindleton the idyllic appearance one would expect to find in a magazine. It would have been the perfect place it appeared to be too, if it wasn’t for a certain towheaded, tuba playing eleven year old.

    Spuds was born in Spindleton on a night no one would ever forget. The weather forecast had promised a sunny day, perfect for cooking out, playing in the park, and walking dogs. When Spuds’ arrival came, the skies burst open with his first breath of life, which was promptly followed by the loudest squalling scream Spindleton had ever heard. The windows in the Dawson house shattered, dogs howled, and stray cats yowled. Even old man Warington’s hearing aid gave off such a high-pitched screech that a small trickle of blood streamed out of his ear and down his neck.

    Some called it an omen of what was to come, while it took others a bit longer to put any stock into the situation.

    By the time Spuds was five years old and ready for kindergarten, the people of Spindleton were ready for him to be taken off the streets. Countless broken windows, destroyed gardens, firecrackers popping in the least expected places (like the time a dozen went off outside of Mrs. Murphy’s chicken coup, ensuring that those chickens wouldn’t lay again for at least six months) and one poor mongrel who turned up with his fur shaved in such a way that he now resembled a zebra instead of a German shepherd, sealed the deal.

    Miss Nelson, the one and only Spindleton schoolteacher, became a regular consumer of aspirin and cold compresses. The tuba had been her idea. She had convinced herself that all Spuds needed was a hobby. He needed something that would focus his attention in a positive direction. When Spuds agreed to give it a try, she was sure that this summer would be different from the ten previous ones.

    Never more right had she been.

    Spuds wasted no time recruiting every kid in Spindleton to join his marching band. It didn’t matter if they didn’t have an instrument. There were plenty of makeshift things to supplement their lack of supplies. Marty Brewer had a soup pot and a hammer. He was the percussion section. Mary Sue Doddle had a plastic kazoo she had gotten with the box tops of her favorite cereal. It was the envy of many a marching band member. Bobby Popsin had his grandfather’s old trombone. Sometimes in the heat of the moment, when the song they were playing was getting particularly lively, the slide on Bobby’s trombone was known to fly off. Once it hit Mary Sue in the back of the head, and she nearly swallowed her kazoo. After that, Bobby marched a little to the side.

    At first, the sight of the marching band was a novelty to the folks of Spindleton. However, when the cacophony of tuba, soup pot drum, kazoo, and trombone made the hair of Mrs. Murphy’s cat fall out in large patches, the freshness of this new turn of events faded quickly.

    As Spuds continued down the street, the other kids would fall in line as if he were the pied piper. Today, as usual, the band wound their way through the streets until they came to the downtown section. On the corner next to the hardware store, there stood a doctor’s office, a drugstore, a mom and pop grocery store, and the First Bank of Spindleton.

    Spuds stopped the parade.

    “Okay, everybody. Pass up your money so Bobby can run into the market and get us an orange pop.”

    Dirty hands turned pockets inside out and passed their findings to Spuds. After adding his own, he gave it to Bobby. The bottle cap was popped off on the edge of a sidewalk bench, and the icy drink was passed around three times until every drop of orangey deliciousness had been drained.

    Feeling refreshed, the band continued on its usual trek. On this particular day, there were unusual happenings in the First Bank of Spindleton. Loud shouts, the demanding of money, and the waving of weapons was drowned out by the band as it grew closer.

    When Bobby hit a surprisingly high-pitched note, followed by the crash of the hammer on the soup pot, Jenkins Jones, the famous bank robber, accidently dropped his realistic plastic gun and it broke into three pieces when it hit the marble floor. Mr. Van Marton jumped over the counter with a bag of coins and swung them at Jenkins Jones’ head, hitting him square between the eyes.

    When the sheriff heard the story of how the marching band had aided in the capture of the infamous outlaw, it was proclaimed that there would be an annual parade in Spindleton in honor of Spuds Dawson and his miraculous marching band every summer on that date.

    Spuds and his band went on to bigger and better things in time, but the people of Spindleton will never forget how Spuds Dawson and his tuba changed their town forever.

    999 Words
    @Toni1777

  13. Old Bones

    We found him by the creek, where the summer had dropped the water level and left him hanging out of the bank, grinning at the blue sky. Old Mister Bones.

    He was obviously human, tangled in rotted clothing and with a real fancy pocket watch. It had fallen inside his chest as his organs went back to the dirt, resting between his shattered ribs like a solid silver heart. That was why we kept him a secret; If we’d only found Bones, we’d have maybe thought better and told Sheriff Gordon, but that watch was real nice. It was treasure. We weren’t going to share it, so we kept the watch, and we kept him.

    He came loose of the clay easily enough, although Clem toppled backwards and lost the fingers he was holding. We tried fishing for them, but we never found them, and he was always a few short after that. Still, we did our best, and with some copper wire and a medical textbook borrowed from Nathan’s father, we managed to string him back together in a passable human form.

    After that, we hauled him back to our clubhouse in the caves, sat him up where the firelight sent his shadow capering across the walls, and we went about our business. When we played cowboys, we gave him a gun, and when Joey took the fever and we were short on injuns, Old Mister Bones got a headdress. We played with him all summer long, and then, when the new term rolled around, we all but forgot about him.

    Until Halloween.

    When Joey came back from the fever, he’d lost so much weight the school mistress thought he’d wandered into the wrong classroom and wanted to send him to kindergarten. He stayed put, of course, but he wasn’t the same anymore. He was weak. He couldn’t run as quick, got worn out carrying his books and practically every kid in the school picked on him, except Clem.

    Clem was always the butt of everyone’s jokes, what with his daddy running off and his momma taking up with Sheriff Gordon and all, so maybe he felt some sympathy for Joey, but Joey sure didn’t return it. He decided that Clem would be his whipping boy. Every day, Joey would eat a mouthful of dirt from anyone who could hold him down, and then he’d make Clem lie down and eat it too. It wasn’t even that Clem was too small to stand up to him; Many’s the time I saw him pin Joey when we were wrestling, even before the fever, but I never once saw him say no. He just took it.

    But as the summer wore off and the creek filled up again, Joey got meaner. He’d hold Clem down longer, give his arm an extra yank even after he’d said uncle. One time he even whizzed all over Clem’s back and said he was too dumb to get out of the rain. Nathan laughed at that, but I didn’t; That was too far for me.

    Then the first pumpkins appeared and Joey hatched his plan. He stockpiled eggs, hiding them in the cave till it stank, and he brought Nathan in on it to help him shift Mister Bones. I stayed out of it until I realised he was using the watch too, and I demanded to be let in or I’d squeal. That watch was one fourth mine and I wanted to see what he did with it.

    We hid in the bushes in Clem’s yard, with Mister Bones and those foul smelling eggs, and we tossed them at the house. It was fun at first, but the third time Sheriff Gordon ran out he had his pistol drawn and looked about ready to use it. I was ready to quit, but Joey wasn’t. He crept up to the house and hung Mister Bones from the porch roof, right in front of the door. He hooked the watch in the middle of his chest, dangling from one of his shattered ribs. Then he ran back to the bushes and hurled the last of the eggs at the windows. There might have been a couple of rocks in there too, because the glass went through with an almighty crash.

    The Sheriff near tore the door off its hinges, saw Old Bones hanging there, raised his pistol and fired. Clem stood behind him, mouth gaping, wrapped in his momma’s arms as she screamed.

    The bullet went straight through of course; Nothing there to stop it, excepting that damned watch. They said the bullet caught it a glancing blow, changed course and came straight through the bushes instead. It caught Joey a glancing blow too, but we didn’t know that till later. We thought he’d killed him.

    And that’s where it ends really. After that it’s just fragments and questions. The Sheriff took us inside and cuffed us and Joey went to the county hospital where they tried to pick the lead from his brain.

    Nathan and me had to work for the Sheriff and Clem’s momma till our sins were repaid, which took about six months, give or take..

    The Sheriff himself retired and opened a store. Married Clem’s momma too, the next spring, when her husband had been missing seven years and they could declare him gone for good.

    Clem never spoke about that night again, but he never ate any more dirt either.

    Joey got his act together, mostly, but his eyes were never right again, and a few years later he got hit by a truck crossing Main Street. People who saw it said he just stepped out, and people who knew him said it was maybe a blessing.

    And Old Mister Bones went back in the dirt again. Minus three fingers.

    But I never knew where the watch wound up, whatever was left of it, any more than I knew why Clem’s momma screamed his poppa’s name when she saw Old Bones.

    1000 words
    @Karl_A_Russell

    • Just brilliant, in so many ways. Really reminded me of a Stephen King short story and given that I love his short stories I can’t really think of a higher compliment (I hope you take it as one 🙂 )

  14. PEARLS
    By Betsy Streeter

    Juniper bushes make good shelter.

    They’re solid and green on top, but underneath they get all woody and bare. You can hang out under there, in the little spaces. California, where I live, has tons of houses with junipers.

    My walk home from summer school is a block long. I go out the parking lot, up a hill, over by one street, and down a hill.

    On the left side of the street is a juniper house. The plants grow right down to the sidewalk. It’s as if a giant green Muppet laid down and died trying to get to the porch.

    I crouch down, my backpack catching on the hard branches. Dry leaves, blown under there last winter, crunch beneath my knees. The pine smell mixes with disturbed dust in my nose.

    I stick out my hand and sweep sideways, reaching for my friends. A rubber lizard, a stuffed puppy dog named Puddles, and two figures made from sticks. I pull them out one by one and position them in a circle so they can talk.

    I can hear kids’ voices, other students leaving summer school. I pray none of them saw me crawl under here. I’m half worried about getting kicked out by whoever lives in the house, half worried I’ll have to share the space and make room for someone else’s stuff.

    Shoes scuff by, trash gets tossed into the bushes not too far away. As long as the juniper underworld remains mine, I don’t care.

    I pull off my backpack and take out my stitching project from summer school. It’s a square of fabric with a picture of an alligator, sewn in soft, colorful thread. The alligator’s tail curls up in back. I’ve included blue in the background to signify the sky.

    The teacher shared with us the rules of stitching, how you go in and out in this grid pattern so the back basically looks the same as the front. Early on I abandoned these rules and just did what I had to in order to make the front look good. So the back of my project is a thick mass of knotted thread.

    It’s a nice soft bed for the stuffed puppy dog. I tuck him in.

    Pretty soon there are no more kids around. Everyone has gone home. It’s hot under here, so I crawl out. I get home when I get home. My uncle is there. He doesn’t notice. He’s eight years older than me. Sometimes he works nights.

    Last week, my uncle came to pick me up from my piano lesson. I opened the door to leave, and he was standing there with this other man I had never seen, wearing a black leather police hat. The man had long, greasy hair. He was overly friendly.

    When we got back to my house, my uncle let the man come in. Even though he says you’re never supposed to let strangers in. The man left after a while. I stayed in my room with the door shut. I practiced getting the screen off my window in case I needed to climb out. Turn the little brackets, pop the screen out. Put the screen back in, replace the brackets.

    My uncle says his girlfriend got tickets to a Black Flag concert, and asks if I want to go. I say okay.

    On the way to the concert we stop by his girlfriend’s apartment. She shares it with this other girl, who has bleached hair and bony shoulders. The other girl puts a pearl necklace on me and everyone goes on about how beautiful and grown up I look with real jewelry on. She says a rich boyfriend gave it to her. She says I can borrow it for the concert. The pearls are thick and round and heavy around my neck.

    Before we go into the concert, my uncle and his girlfriend duck back into the car and leave me standing on the sidewalk. I can’t see much through the reflections on the windshield but they are bent over putting something in their noses. I wait.

    That night, I am sure the house is on fire. I can hear the crackling. It’s coming from the kitchen. I keep jerking awake, thinking I hear fire. I get up and walk out to the living room. I look for the orange glow of fire anywhere, but it’s dark. I go back to bed.

    The next day I decide to let my friend Gabby in on my juniper secret after summer school. We crawl under and sit, facing each other. Gabby has a wide, smiley face and always wears a t-shirt that says, “Silver and Black Attack.” Gabby picks out a spot for her pencil box and a comic book. She has a stuffed puppy just like mine, but different colors. We set them down to talk to each other.

    When I get home, my uncle is standing out in front of the house. He’s with my aunt. She’s older than him by a lot. He never asks her to come in. They always talk out front.

    I wave and walk into the house without saying anything. I’m supposed to go inside so they can talk. My aunt has her arms crossed.

    From the house I can hear a little of what they are saying, something about a problem with my uncle’s car. I realize that the car isn’t parked outside like usual.

    My aunt starts screaming about how stupid my uncle is, and how many times does she have to bail him out. She always says this is the last time. My uncle doesn’t say much.

    I put my hand to my face. I can smell the juniper.

    @betsystreeter
    953 words excluding title

  15. “MoonShine”
    @Making_Fiction
    994 Words

    His black overcoat whips around him in the horizontal rain. His exaggerated silhouette looks like that of a comic book superhero against the shimmering full moon. The satellite dangles above the oceanic vanishing point; its knowing grin smirks at the suggestion that there is, or ever has been, anything heroic about him.

    He watches the relentless origami waves crush down and enfold on each other. Their calling echoes harvest buried memories, suppressed by countless years of therapy, coping strategies and medication.

    The moonlight shrouds the landscape in luminous mercury pigment and highlights the tall grass, which looks like a million acupuncture needles on the malleable spine of the sand dunes. It rustles as if it’s alive and agitated, it shoals and jostles; it wants to say something forbidden.

    It whispers his name, his real name.

    A name he has not heard for three decades.

    ***

    He is like a disembodied time traveller, sent to witness the grotesque events, but unable to intervene…

    He is fourteen again.

    The summer day has relinquished its ferocious heat to the clear, cool night sky. The moon is full, its glow echoes of a thousand tales of romance. The starry swirl looks like a smeared glitter lamp against the void of space and time. The ocean smells of age, of time, and of a time before time.

    He sees the shipwreck, jutting out of the sand like prehistoric avian carcass. Bleached curved bones reach skywards as if trying to claw their freedom from the sands.

    She is lying inside. Her heart still beats for him. He approaches confidently. He performs the walk of a nervous actor playing a role.

    “Pass me another beer, Josh, my knight in shining armour,” Jess says, her smile is pure, but hints of mischief.

    He looks at her. He has thought about this night for months, but knows he has to be careful with the sand in his folk’s freshly stolen car.

    “What’s taking you so long?” she calls.

    “Nothing. Just wait. I’ll be there in a second.”

    “How much alcohol did you steal from your parents?”

    “All of it,” he shouts back into the wind, “we have every colour and flavour imaginable. I even have
    Poitín, good ol’ Irish moonshine.”

    “Did you get the cigarettes?”

    “Yep.”

    “The firewood?”

    “Of course.”

    “Did you really push the car out of the drive and down the road before starting it?”

    “Yep. And there is a pillow corpse in my bed, before you ask.”

    He returns with the ice-cold beers. He builds the fire, and lights it. The pyrotechnic wigwam exhales sparks, that dance and swarm into the infinite night sky.She rolls on her side to face him. Her eyes reflect the dancing flames of the fire, and in this light, she makes him feel like he has never felt before. Her freckles are more prominent after the long summer days, her hair more blond and her skin warmer in colour.

    He wants her more than anything and yet he cannot describe how he feels. It feels like hunger or thirst, something primeval and unsettling.

    “What are we doing, Jess?” he asks.

    “This.” She pulls his hand across her stomach; it’s smooth, delicate and warming. Then she invites his hand elsewhere.

    He stops her, “No!”

    She looks at him confused, slightly saddened, almost hurt, “I thought this is what you…what we, both wanted.”

    “Not yet. We’re too young. I want to…more than anything, but…” He thinks about his words carefully, “…our parents, they made the same mistakes. We’re better than that.”

    She smiles, a smile of deep understanding.

    She looks at the sea, “Did you bring a change of clothes?” she asks.

    He smiles, “and towels and blankets. I’ve come well prepared.”

    They talk about the beach, and the foxes and the rabbits playing in the dunes. They talk about anything; they talk about everything.

    They finish their drinks, and the next ones, working their way through the garish coloured liquids.

    They stagger into the water. The sharp, cold Atlantic takes their breath. The waves are high. Much higher than they seemed from the shore; but they are brave, young, and invincible.

    The pull.

    It takes her away. Out, towards the rocks. He sees it happen. He freezes in disbelief. Then it takes him. He realises he cannot help her. The current is strong, but he fights with every molecule in him.
    He reaches the shoreline, coughing the stinging briny water from his lungs. He looks for her. Further up the coast he sees a shape.

    The ocean has spat her out like discarded driftwood.

    He runs. He cradles her. It’s too late. Her skin is already cold and devoid of colour. Her once blond hair is sticky and dark red. Freckles flecked with blood. Her head lolls limply and her eyes reach for distant places; eternal places that he cannot see.

    He cries. He cries for her. He cries for them. He cries for a future neither of them will see.

    ***

    It has taken him thirty years to come back to this place.

    His wife has just given birth to their beautiful daughter. He feels he is undeserving of both of them. He came here to pay his respects, to have some closure, perhaps even to remember the beauty of summer one more time.

    He sees the shipwreck, its bones decomposing with age. In the sand dunes, he hears the screams of rabbits and the bloodthirsty call of foxes, the game of prey and predator.

    He thinks about the ocean and its immense power. It is the creator of continents, the destroyer of lands, the birthplace of life itself – yet it bows submissively beneath its master, the moon. Its sinister light and haunted gaze give nothing away. It looks shocked and in disbelief, but it knows everything.

    It controls the ocean, yet it no longer has hold over him.

    He wraps his overcoat tightly around him and strides headlong into the summer wind.

    • Stunning descriptions. I feel there is a futuristic mood to the whole piece like you’re having the reader see our own world in a slightly different way. The human story itself is very well written. Loved it!

    • Well done, Mark. I can’t imagine the bravery it would take the narrator to return to a place that holds such a heavy scar. It made me very sad for him. Beautiful descriptions of the ocean and loved the play on word of “moonshine.” Thanks for sharing.

      • Thanks for your very kind and thoughtful words, Rasha. It was one of those stories that I needed to write, but it was a bit painful to write (if that makes sense? Or, maybe it should never feel like that and I’m just doing it wrong!). I now want to do one that is less intense and much more fun 🙂

  16. WE WERE FRIENDS ONCE, AND YOUNG

    Brian Creek
    994 words
    @BrianSCreek

    I taste the salt of the sea spay.

    Looking around at the other soldiers in the landing craft I see a bunch of young boys fearing for their lives. Some pray, others throw up. They all wish to be anywhere but here.

    “30 seconds!” yells the landing craft’s pilot over the roar of engines.

    I check my rifle one last time. The lens cover comes off and I chamber the first round. I won’t have long to make the shots count.

    “10 seconds!”

    This is it. This is what I was trained for. I will lead these men into battle and we will take this beach.

    The craft’s engines reverse to slow us down. I leap over the ramp and land several feet ahead of it. The Germans don’t hesitate. They open fire, muzzle flare illuminating the slits of their bunkers.

    The bullets bounce of my impenetrable skin. I ignore the irritation and take aim.

    * * *

    Summer was getting boring the longer it dragged on and the four of us were struggling to come up with things to do.

    This is why, when Mickey came round to see me one morning, I thought what he suggested sounded like a good idea. We headed over to Henry’s house and then onto Tommy’s. Before he even opened his mouth I knew Tommy wouldn’t like it.

    “Are you kidding?” he protested. “That’s crazy!”

    “Are you chicken?” said Mickey. “’Cause if you don’t wanna come with then just stay home with your Mom.”

    Tommy knew he was being wound up. In all the time I’d known these two they’d never got on and Tommy had never backed down.

    “I’m no chicken,” said Tommy. He didn’t blink or nothing.

    With tension still looming we headed off.

    * * *

    Mickey said he’d been out late last night avoiding his drunk of a father when he’d seen a strange light show coming from the army base out past the hills. We’d all been taught to stay away from the base since we could walk but if there’s one thing you shouldn’t tell a boy it’s where not to go. The main thing was we were occupied again and it was a nice day for a walk.

    The sun was just peaking in the sky when we got our first sight of the base. We lay down in the grass ‘top of the hill that looked down on it. We were surprised to see no soldiers marching around the place or any of those new flying machines we seen ‘em testing in the skies. Place looked deader than a graveyard at midnight.

    “Let’s go down,” said Mickey.

    “Are you crazy? We shouldn’t even be this close. No one’s down there, that’s clear as mud, as is the fact that Mickey’s talking bull again.”

    Mickey went for Tommy this time but me and Henry held him back. I calmed my friend down and then told Tommy just to stay here as look out. He still wasn’t happy but I couldn’t work miracles.

    We spent a couple of minutes walking round the outside until Henry spotted a section of fence that didn’t seem to want to keep us out. I pulled it back while the others climbed through and then followed.

    Although we couldn’t see anyone about we stuck to the buildings just in case. You can’t sneak in the open. We weren’t ghosts after all.

    We made our way over to a windowless building on the far side. There were two big, metal doors facing us and they were open enough that we’d have no trouble passing through.

    “Let’s check it out,” said Mickey.

    “Are you sure?” said Henry. “Maybe Tommy was right.”

    Mickey glared at us both. “Don’t be like that chicken we left up on the hill.”

    Henry looked at me for backup and then back to Mickey. “I’m not chicken. I’m just saying we’ve seen enough. Whatever made those strange lights you saw is gone. Let’s head back.”

    “Whadda you say?”

    I looked to Henry, his eyes pleading me to agree. I turned back to Mickey and knew that he needed this, needed answers to his questions, needed something, anything that would help him ignore his life back in town. “Stay here and keep watch,” I said to Henry who just sighed. “We’ll be back in five minutes. Right, Mickey?”

    “Right,” he replied before disappearing through the doors.

    I followed him in but didn’t get too far before I had to stop. Despite the blazing sun outside it was pitch black in here. I called for Mickey but there was no response. I edged further in, arms outstretched and eyes straining. I walked into something metal about three times and as I’d lost all direction I couldn’t tell if it was the same thing or not. I was close to giving up and going back to the gap in the doors when Mickey called me from outside. It was too late though. The doors shut as flashing red lights came on and an alarm rang out.

    I don’t remember much that happened once the alarm started but it hurt and eventually knocked me out. I was told several months later that I’d wandered into a top secret army experiment and it would not be safe to go back to my old life. I never saw my parents or my three best friends again.

    The experiment changed me in ways that made me the perfect weapon for my country. My life was far from normal after that. They trained me and tested me and made me who I am today.

    And then a man named Hitler decided to start a little war.

    * * *

    I don’t waste a bullet and now the machine gun nests sit quiet. I reload my rifle and signal the landing craft. I feel the draft as the ramp drops down behind me before the soldiers rush past me and up the beach.

    We got a lot of fighting ahead of us.

    • After a draft involving aliens (?!) and another involving demons (?!?!) I finally settled on the above. Much happier with this version.

      (also, my word doc counts ‘* * *’ as words (was using them for scene breaks) which explains why I was struggling to get the word count under 1000 (shakes fist at Microsoft Word for tricking me).

    • Brian, the beginning was special and drew me in. The idea is brilliant. The characters and relationships are very strong. The flashback/ forward worked well. As a personal preference, I’m not sure the story needed the experiment twist near the end as I think it stood incredibly strongly as a contrast between the carefree friendships of childhood and the trauma of war. Thanks also for mentioning the word count with ‘*** ‘I didn’t know it did that, but like you, I spent ages editing and it’s something I’ll keep an eye out for now 🙂 Congrats on a great story.

      • Thank you Mark. Glad you liked it.

        One of my weaknesses in writing is always looking to the fantastical hence why my final version of ‘science experiment’ went via ‘aliens’ and ‘demons’ first.

        It’s funny that, given the 1000 word limit instead of 150 I thought I’d have plenty more room to play with but that just wasn’t the case.

        Still, enjoyed writing it. Thank you for reading.

    • Well done on your descriptions – I could see the whole thing. “Henry spotted a section of fence that didn’t seem to want to keep us out.” <– Fantastically stated.

      • Thank you Rasha. When I was cutting it under 1000 words that was a favourite line that i refused to even consider losing.

        Glad you liked it.

  17. Title: Dog’s Day in Summer
    By: Rasha Tayaket
    Word Count: 987

    “Come here, boy!” shouted Danny patting his thighs with his hands. I ran as fast as I could, all four legs just grazing the long grass. My slobbery tongue licked mud off his face. He pushed me away and I barked until he let me have the rest of the mud.

    “Danny, jump in!” called John. Danny grabbed my tail and I twirled around and chased after him into the lake. John, Keith, and Matt were neck deep in the muddy water and I watched Danny swim out to them. I stayed barking at the edge, guarding their clothes that were hung up on a tree limb. Once they left them on the ground and I took them to guard them in a hole. But they ran out of the water after me and wouldn’t let me dig the hole. The clothes would’ve been safer but my humans didn’t understand.

    I lapped up the water and enjoyed the flavorful critters I snatched up. When I’d had my fill I lay under the tree in the shade and listened to my humans in the water.

    When the boys swam back to shore, they were laughing and Danny kept pushing Keith back into the water. I wagged my tail and walked towards them to join the fun.

    “Good boy, Doffer!” said Danny. Matt patted me on the head and grabbed his shirt off the tree limb. The other boys followed suit and the five of us left the lake.

    We headed for the fort we’d made in the woods behind John and Matt’s house. I went straight for the water dish which stayed filled up with a hose that Matt had rigged stretching from the house and into the fort. Danny handed me a treat which I greedily inhaled and I grabbed the small ball that Danny kept throwing away. Whenever he threw it, I always brought it back to him but my human would just throw it away again. And I would bring it back. Humans could be silly like that. Just from the lake to the fort he had thrown it four times. He was not careful and it was my job to make sure he didn’t lose it.

    John pulled out the cards and my humans sat in a circle to play. Then John accused Matt of cheating and punched his brother in the arm.

    “You’re just a sore loser!” said Matt escalating into a louder voice and whopping John in the stomach. Then it was war. They tumbled on the dirt and Keith and Danny shifted out of their way. Meanwhile, Danny picked up the cards and he and Keith continued the game. After a few more blows Matt and John joined back in on the game like nothing had happened. They were like fighting pups that put up a fuss and then forgot all about it.

    Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I saw something move near my humans’ tool box. I looked at the boys to see if they had seen it but they were distracted. I stood up, leaving the ball against Danny’s leg, hoping he didn’t try to lose it in the meantime.

    My nostrils flared as I caught the scent of something strange and menacing. I walked to where I had seen the movement. The putrid smell was coming from there. Whatever was lurking was evil. I growled and hunched forward. My humans were in danger. I saw the movement again and lurched, hitting my head against the box.

    “What is it, Doffer?” said Matt, starting to crawl in the fort towards me. I turned and barked at him warning him not to come closer. He jumped back and it got the other boys’ attention. The game was paused as they all watched me bare my jaws and growl. When I was sure they were not going to come closer, I turned back to the tool box and pile of sticks in the corner kept for fort repairs and s’mores. The creature was under there. Down on all haunches I sniffed and followed the evil stink around the tools to get a better angle at the stick pile. I growled again, tail and ears perked for action. One look over my shoulder told me my humans were a safe distance away.

    I lunged into the debris, snapping some twigs and sunk my jaws around something that squealed and hissed. It scratched my face and I bit down harder. Suddenly I was pulled by my waist out of the sticks. The villain was still in my grasp.

    “Lucy!” shouted John reaching for the thing in my mouth. Why didn’t he stay back! It was dangerous. Danny told me to drop it and I reluctantly opened my mouth and let the now whimpering vermin out but was ready to snatch it up again. John, stupid human, grabbed the critter in his hands. When it did not attack, I relaxed and Danny let me go.

    “Ma’s going to be pissed!” said Matt crawling on his hands and knees to John. “She just got this stupid cat.”

    “Doffer didn’t get her too bad. Just a little scrape on her paw,” said John. He and Matt looked at each other and then both looked at me. I sat up straight and proud. My humans were no longer in danger. I had subdued the cat.

    Then Keith started laughing. Danny scratched my ears and joined him. The cat, Lucy, was burrowing as far as she could into John’s arms for safety. She perked her head up and I growled, making her burrow more frantically. John crawled outside the fort with the creature.

    Matt was grinning. “The fort does say ‘No Girls’. Good boy, Doffer” he said. Danny grabbed the ball and tossed it inside the fort against the stick wall a few feet away. I brought it back to him. He would never learn.

  18. Boys will be boys

    I glanced at the photo on the sideboard. Well, why wouldn’t I? It was their anniversary after all. It’s not that I never look at it any other time but, well, another year passes and still I hold onto the hope that I will see them again.
    What a Summer that was! None of us with obligations, the whole world ready for our tomfoolery and boy did we give them some.

    I shifted position, the tube up my nose irritates sometimes.

    ‘They look like a likely bunch!’Jenny said who caught me reminiscing. She was my nurse for the week while Roberto was in Spain.
    ‘We were.’
    ‘Oh, it’s you in that photo?’
    I motioned Jenny to bring the photo over. I hadn’t noticed how thin my fingers had become.

    ‘Mickey, the one with the biggest glare, he was the ringleader. Smack in the centre of everything he was. Jimbo to the right, the questioner. Lamb on the left – he lost his mother that year and me at the back. Always the less courageous. I was the cautious boy who tried to have some fun.Tagged along. I preferred books to dirt. We stayed out longer than we should, we all knew we were pushing it. You never think that you’re at risk, I guess children don’t look to the future, they just do things.’

    ‘Yes, but boys will be boys huh?’ Jenny said, adjusting the covers again. Even that felt uncomfortable. I looked down.
    ‘We pushed the envelope that Summer. We deserved what we got.’
    ‘What happened? You got me all intrigued now.’

    I was aware of the cool breeze entering my nose through the tube. Oh well, maybe it’s the last time I’ll tell the story but I’d need a rest after.

    ‘Let me just get comfortable. Bring me a whiskey eh?’ Jenny groaned but tramped to the kitchen. She brought a small shot. I swilled the golden liquid around the heavy glass.

    ‘It was the whiskey that got us into trouble that day. It was Summer, we all met up on our bikes and would cycle right to the next town. Mickey had the idea to steal food from the store, nothing big just some bread, something to keep us going all day. In those day Mum’s didn’t make packed lunches. We egged him on. He rose to the challenge. We did all sorts of crazy things. But then Mickey found some whiskey. Well, so he told us. We couldn’t believe it, the bottle was almost full, neither of us had really drunk alcohol before. But we knew it was the drink that our parents craved, and the reason why Lamb’s mother wasn’t around.
    We settled in the woods just outside of town, it was cooler and there was a creek we could splash around in. Mickey opened the bottle, we were all encouraged to smell it first. Lamb seemed the most interested.’ I stopped to take a swig, savouring the heat in my mouth before glazing my throat.

    ‘We all had a mouthful, swigged it straight out the bottle. It was truly disgusting. I got the impression that Mickey had had it before. He was the bravest, he hardly pulled a face at all. I guess a few mouthfuls of bread weren’t enough to soak up the alcohol and we were giggling and lolling around in the dirt in no time.’ I had another break, talking was more difficult than it used to be. I downed the rest of the glass. The taste was familiar, not like back then.

    ‘Anyway, we never made it back home. Well, I did. I’m jumping the gun. We stayed out and it was getting dark, we didn’t own torches in those days. A light appeared in the woods, it was real bright. All of us were curious, the whiskey made us even more so. It gave us courage. Mickey was the first to go look and we followed close behind, me at the back. The light was strange, it had different hues. I was afraid, I remember that. I hid behind a tree. They all moved towards it. I shouted, ‘Hey, come back!’ Couldn’t think of anything else to say. The light surrounded them, I couldn’t see them. The light flooded everywhere. I called again. I got the impression that something big was hovering but there was too much light to tell. Then a flash and…’

    I stopped. Jenny put her hand on my arm.

    ‘Leave it, maybe it’s too painful.’
    ‘No, it’s ok. It was a long time ago now, let me finish, just get my breath.’
    ‘The flash. I shielded my eyes from it and crouched down. Then the light was gone and, and, so were they. All three. Taken. Just like that. Once they were here then they were gone. I remember rushing forward, checking for holes in the ground, not comprehending that something took them up there!’ I pointed to the ceiling.

    Jenny was silent. I carried on.

    ‘I looked everywhere for them, I stayed out all night, crouched behind that tree, until the dawn broke and flooded the area with light. There was no trace of them. Nothing. I knew I had to go home and tell folk what had happened. My father hit me til I was black and blue, and you know? I deserved it. In my mind I deserved every punch. Every punch.’

    Jenny squeezed my arm.

    ‘Blimey! What a shock that must have been!’ She said, leaving her hand on my arm.

    ‘I think I grew up in shock. The empty seats at school. It’s what I remember the most. The empty seats at school.’
    Jenny took the glass from me.
    ‘Rest now. That’s all in the past.’ I felt heavy.
    ‘I looked for them Jenny, I did, every day, every day, until we moved out of the area…’
    I slept and dreamt of Mickey, his glare now replaced with a smile. In fact, now they were all smiling.

    996 words. Avalina Kreska.
    @avalina_kreska

  19. Avalina, I liked the sense of loss you’ve conveyed in the narrative voice. There is a real emptiness to the way events are told from the future. Although there is an unusual reason behind the story, it is the emotional sense of regret that stands out most, for me.

  20. Alley Dog Blues
    (999 Words)

    Ace was born under mean old Mr. Huxton’s porch one sweltering night in May. He almost died that very same May night, when the worst storm of the year all but busted open the heavens and flooded the den his mama (a fierce collie mix) had dug out for her very first litter. But his mama did not rest til she had carried each and every one of her five pups to safety. Ace was the last one she scruffed and lifted from the muddy pit where he’d begun his life. And poor little mama worried he might not make it through the night as he sputtered and coughed and cried.
    But Ace was a fighter from the start. Mama said he got it from his Pa, an indomitable terrier known for killing rattlers til the day one killed him back. Ace always told his mama that he got it from her too, but she never admitted to it. Unfortunately for his sweet mama and less rambunctious siblings, Ace was also a troublemaker from the beginning. From stealing scraps to chasing fat house cats all the way up to their infuriated owners’ doors, Ace always had his nose stuck into something he shouldn’t.
    This was especially true one August day when Ace, now a teenaged pup all gangly legs and too big ears, stumbled across a pit bull not many months his senior. She came dashing out of the alley behind Erwin’s General Store as if all the fury of hell burned at her heels. Ace watched from his vantage point atop a stack of rotting pallets as she skid to a halt behind the nearest dumpster. Even from the distance he could see her chest heaving and knees quivering. He could smell all manner of scents on her too, cows, cigarettes, liquor, blood, and fear most of all.
    “Hey there, friend! Need any help?” Ace yipped as he leapt from the pallets and began to walk towards the skin-and-bones cur. He had thought she was solid black, but as the mid-morning rays shone on her coat, he saw hints of brindle and a single white paw. The female’s eyes darted as if considering an escape route, her tail tucked up into her caved in belly.
    “I promise I don’t mean no harm! My name is Ace. What’s yours?” He stopped a good ways from her and flicked his ears, careful not to make too much eye contact.
    “Gemma. And no, I don’t need no help, Ace.”
    Before the younger dog could push any further, the general store’s door slammed open. Erwin’s wife, armed with a bristly old broom, came out swinging. Ace and Gemma scampered off towards the woods. As they ran side-by-side, Ace couldn’t help but notice Gemma’s scars and the chewed off rope digging into her already raw throat. Once they were a safe distance away, they stopped to catch their breath. But not an even a minute had passed before Gemma lurched to her feet and started hobbling off towards the highway.
    “Wait!” Ace called, “Where ya goin’?”
    “Away.”
    “Why? I gotta whole load of food back at the barn my family and I’ve been sleeping in. You should at least eat before you go!” Ace could tell from the drool shining on Gemma’s lips that she wanted nothing more than to say yes. “Ain’t no humans gonna be bursting in either, they never come to our barn.”
    “Well, alright. Maybe just a quick bite, as long as no humans come.”
    What neither of the mutts knew was that Erwin’s wife had recognized Gemma and taken it upon herself to call up her master. Mr. Huxton, the owner of the very same porch where Ace had begun his life, had too many dogs to count. He was also known for starving, kicking, and generally being cruel to every one of these poor souls, because, as he put it “pampered pets don’t make good guard dogs.” Erwin’s wife didn’t much care about all this, just wanted to have one less mongrel on the streets that she would have to shoo out of her dumpster.
    Mr. Huxton picked up his runaway dog’s trail from the General Store and found himself outside a dilapidated old barn alive with barking, yowling, and general canine mayhem. Trusty bat in hand, he slid the rusty doors open.
    The dogs scattered almost instantly, but poor Gemma was just not fast enough. Before Ace could even realize his new friend hadn’t found cover like the rest of the pack, Mr. Huxton’s bat collided with her fragile body. She fell whimpering and Ace knew he had to do something. Against his family’s panicked pleas, the fluffy pup leapt out of his hiding spot and onto Mr. Huxton’s back. The old man reached around and scruffed him, tossing Ace to the side as easily he would an empty beer bottle.
    Ace rolled and barked to Gemma, “We gotta get him away from the others! Follow me!” Narrowly avoiding a direct blow, the two dogs managed to escape out the barn door. Huxton barreled after them.
    “Now what?” Gemma said between pants, it was clear she would not be able to run for long. Before Ace could reply, the bat cracked into his skull, sending him sprawling.

    The next thing Ace saw was Gemma’s face. Blood ran in rivers down her chest, soaking her one white paw.
    “What happened?” Ace asked as he struggled to his feet. But Gemma didn’t need to say a word. Behind her lay mean old Mr. Huxton, except he was missing part of his throat.
    “You know what they do to dogs that hurt humans?” Gemma laid her head on her paws as the other dogs began to crowd around them.
    “Don’t worry, Gemma. It’s just like you said. A quick bite and you’ll be on your way. ‘Cept you may have to put up with a little bit of company.”

    ~Taryn Noelle Kloeden
    @tnkloeden

  21. Taryn, I like the way that the story is told with human emotion but from Ace/Gemma’s point of view (nice use of senses). Nice to see the dog beater get justice in the end and I liked the lovely open ending for the two heroic dogs. Good luck!

  22. Summer 1943
    by Laura Carroll Butler
    989 words

    We had lived in Eden for a whole year with my grandparents while Dad was flying somewhere in the Pacific. I was happy to picture him in his plane, safe from the gruesome stories of Guadalcanal in Life magazine. Like most of the homes in Eden, we had a Blue Star flag hanging in the front window; a few homes had Gold Star flags as well. Cody’s grandma hung hers when she received it; but his mom, Clara, didn’t get a Gold Star flag.

    School was over and summer was finally here. Mornings, Cody worked with the colored people planting tobacco and melons. Thomas and I weeded the Victory garden while we waited for Cody to get off work after lunch. Once a week, the three of us went around the neighborhood collecting scrap metal, aluminum, tin foil from gum wrappers, any kind of metal really. Another day, we would collect the cooking fat which was smellier and messier. All the ladies fell over six-year-old Thomas, but if he got a cookie or a cup of lemonade, Cody and I got the same thing without having to be oohed and aahed over.

    The Mortons had moved into the house across from us in April. There were four girls, all with wavy brown hair and blue eyes. My mother called them stair steps. The oldest, Janet, was 13; Marie was 11; Bette was 7; and Luise was 5. Their mother, Mrs. Morton, who was the tallest stair step, was expecting another child. Janet told me that the baby would be named either Joan or Gary as they had all been named after Academy Award winners. “Pop hopes it will be a Gary,” she said and I hoped as well for Mr. Morton’s sake.

    Marie was in my class at school. When she came over, she usually had Bette or Luise. My mother was in heaven with the girls, happy to comb their hair, play dolls or just sit and talk. Janet spent a lot of time helping her mother in the house or out with her own friends; she thought she was too old to play with us. It was a shame because she always came up with the best fun.

    One afternoon, Cody, Thomas and I had picked all the ripe blackberries in the lane behind the Morton’s house. Our fingers stained with juice, we found Janet in the backyard watching her sisters.

    “Oh good!” she said when she saw us. We need you boys to help us excavate this site.” She swept her arms around to the patch behind the garage the Morton’s shared with their neighbors. Like I said, Janet had the best ideas. We were always finding old buttons and bullets in the garden at our house. Granny said that the land had been a soldier camp during the Civil War.

    Janet was in charge because she had read a book about archeology. We weren’t digging long before Thomas was working on a deep hole and Luise was throwing clumps of dirt at Bette. Cody, Marie and I followed Janet’s lead and sifted carefully through the dirt, one section at a time. We found marbles, some old coins, nails and lots of rocks.

    When Luise threw a worm at Bette, she screamed and ran inside to tell her mother. Marie picked up the worm and said she’d give her marbles to whoever would eat it. Of course, no one volunteered. Then Janet offered the coin she had found if someone would eat the worm.

    “I’ll eat it for all the coins,” Thomas offered.

    Now we were on to something. Between the four of us, we had found a nickel, four Lincoln pennies and two Indian head pennies. Marie offered to throw in her marbles as well.

    Thomas had brushed the dirt off the worm and it wiggled in his hand. We all looked on while he decided. “All the coins, Marie’s marbles and Charlie’s Lou Gehrig card.”

    “Not my Lou Gehrig. What about my Joe DiMaggio?” I countered.

    Thomas thought for a second. “Deal. All the coins and marbles and Joe DiMaggio.”

    “You have to shake on it,” Cody said.

    “Cody’s right, Charlie. You have to shake on it. And we’re all witnesses,” Janet said.

    Thomas and I shook hands then I said, “The whole worm, no throwing up.”

    “The whole worm,” he repeated. We waited while he brushed non-existent dirt off the worm. We heard the back door of the house open and knew we had seconds before Mrs. Morton came out and stopped our fun.

    “Hurry,” Janet urged.

    Thomas shoved the worm in his mouth and chewed really fast, making all kinds of scrunching faces as he swallowed. Luise screamed and we all shouted, “Ewww!” Thomas opened his mouth to show us it was gone.

    “Janet! Marie!” we heard Mrs. Morton yell.

    “He did it,” Janet said and we were all impressed. We handed over the coins and the marbles as Mrs. Morton came into the backyard.

    “What is going on back here?” she asked.

    “You better go,” Janet urged and Cody, Thomas and I slipped over the fence into the back alley so Mrs. Morton wouldn’t see us.

    “Who said you could dig back here?” we heard. “You better put all that dirt back where you found it!”

    “Thomas ate a worm!” exclaimed Luise.

    “Don’t tell tales, Luise. Thomas isn’t even here. Janet, you and Marie put all that dirt back…” We didn’t hear the rest because we were laughing so hard.

    Of course Granny didn’t believe Thomas ate the worm, but Mom did. “You shouldn’t torture your brother like that,” she said.

    “We paid him to do it,” I protested.

    “Thomas,” she called out to him. “Don’t let them pressure you into doing dumb things. Worms are dirty.”

    “But Charlie gave me his Joe DiMaggio if I did it.”

    “Still,” she said, but she was laughing. Summer was going to be great.

  23. Laura, the opening is wonderful – especially the first paragraph. The scenario with the kids is one that seems oddly familiar (remembering doing similar dares, but thankfully not with a worm). Well done on a great entry.

  24. Old Times’ Stake

    Old man Jenkins heard a thump at his front door. About time! He moved slowly, visibly wincing with every step. The door creaked in protest as he opened it to reveal his daughter, looking concerned. He peered around cautiously and ushered her inside. He whispered, “Elsie, what are you doing here?”
    “Nice to see you too Dad. I was in the neighbourhood.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a silver cross, “This was on your doorstep. Care to explain?”
    Jenkins thought fast, “I joined a new church. Guess that’s the welcome gift.”
    Elsie nodded, “Oh I see, well I guess they’re not so welcoming because this was on top of it.” She pulled out a long wooden stake and pointed it accusingly at her Father, “It’s started again hasn’t it. How long?”
    Jenkins mumbled, “About a week.”
    Elsie gave him a stern look, “A week! Why didn’t you say anything?”
    “You’ve got your own problems. It’s nothing to worry about.”
    “This has been going on long enough. I’m calling the police!”
    He let out a chuckle, “And tell them what, that kids are leaving camping equipment and religious items on my doorstep? I’m sure they’ll have their top detectives down here pronto.”
    “It’s harassment, plain and simple. It was funny thirty years ago, but now you’re a helpless old man. How many times do we have to squash this rumour that you’re a vampire?”
    “I guess at least once more.”
    Elsie shook her head, “Just because you enjoy midnight strolls, doesn’t give them the right to treat you like this. I won’t have you living in fear. Come stay with me and the kids until all of this dies down.”
    Jenkins expression immediately soured, “Absolutely not! I won’t be a burden to you and your family. Speaking of which, you should be getting back.”
    He nudged her towards the door but she stepped around him, “I know you keep avoiding the subject but you can’t live alone forever. What if you fell?”
    She moved into the living room, “It’s freezing in here Dad, why don’t you light the fireplace?”
    Jenkins smiled and bent down to retrieve something from a drawer, but he suddenly clutched at his back. Elsie gently directed him to the sofa. The arthritis had come on so quickly. Just a month ago he was a sprightly old man, fitter than men half his age. Now here he was, hobbling around, frail and vulnerable.
    “What have I told you about overdoing it? You’re not exactly a spring chicken.”
    “In my day…”
    She cut him off, “I know, you walked twenty miles to school barefoot in the snow, wrestling grizzly bears all the way.”
    “You forgot the Werewolves…”
    She punched him playfully in the arm. He reached out and handed her what he’d retrieved. She recognized it as her Mothers favourite hand knit scarf. He said, “If you won’t leave at least put this on. It will keep you warm.”
    She wrapped the scarf around her neck. It smelled old and musty, with distinct undertones of something pungent. She reminded herself to have a long bath when she got home.

    Elsie noticed a pile of photographs strewn across the coffee table. She picked one up and admired the young men staring back at her. Her Dad was instantly recognizable, a freckly youth with some stylish suspenders and a twinkle in his eye, “What’s this picture Dad, I’ve never seen it before.”
    Jenkins squinted, “Oh that’s just me and my old school buddies. We got up to all sorts of mischief, the kind kids just don’t understand these days.” He gazed off into the distance.
    Elsie joined him on the sofa, “Did I ever meet them?”
    “I’m afraid I stopped hanging out with them as soon as you were born. Couldn’t get into trouble with a family at home.”
    “Where are they now?”
    “All dead except Simmons, that tall kid at the back.”
    “That’s terrible, what happened?”
    “Wild wolf killed Peters. Smith lost his mind and died suddenly.”

    There was a loud thump at the door which made Elsie jump.
    “Are you expecting someone?”
    The fear was back in her Dad’s eyes. Before he could stop her she jumped out of her seat, “It better not be those damn kids!” She swung the door open to find a young man dressed all in black. He smiled, “Good evening miss, I am looking for Mr. Jenkins.”
    Elsie said, “You’re in the right place. Please come in.” There was a niggle at the back of her mind, “Do I know you?”
    Her Dad was the one to reply, “Elsie dear, this is the old friend I was just telling you about, Mr. Simmons. Please come over here.”
    Before she could escape Simmons grabbed her arm. She struggled as he smiled a wicked grin, revealing prominent fangs, “Nice to see you old friend. I see the years haven’t been kind. I will kill your daughter quickly, for old times’ sake, but I’m afraid you won’t get that same courtesy.”
    He lunged for Elsie’s neck. She screamed and waited for the sharp pain, but none came. Instead there was an intense rasping. The grip loosened and she turned to see Simmons grasping his throat.

    Jenkins moved with amazing speed, cartwheeling over the couch and picking the stake up off the floor in one smooth motion. He flung it with enough force to pin Simmons to the wall, where he squirmed and shrieked before dissolving into a pile of ashes.
    Elsie stared, dumbfounded. She could only manage, “How?”
    Jenkins took a deep breath, “The short version is, the arthritis was a ruse, the scarf is garlic infused and the stake was a gift from the neighbourhood priest to help me do my job one last time. The long story is quite something else, and really requires at least a cup of tea and possibly something stronger. It’s about time I filled you in, so pop the kettle on and pass the biscuits.”

    999 words
    @todayschapter

  25. When You Go Down To The Woods

    They aren’t supposed to be there, of course. All three know this; have had it drilled into them until they can recite the words by rote. “Don’t dare to go near those woods!” they have hollered, on occasion, laughing loudly – although always far from their doorsteps, where there is no chance of being caught. Still they sneak away, each summer, into the semi cool beneath the branches, where the sun’s rays cannot beat mercilessly on them, its midday peak forcing sweat from their pores. There is no other respite to be had from the heat when it finds itself in full flow in Dry River Valley. Everyone knows this. Thus, they have often wondered at the insistence of those who consider themselves wiser that they avoid its relative comfort and shade. It makes no odds by this point; they have been coming here for a couple of years now, anyway, at this time of year, pre start of school.

    “You’re it!” Ste points at Johnny, decisively, before he is off and running, taking himself to safety behind a tree trunk.

    “I’m always it!” Johnny protests half-heartedly. “Guys!” He pauses. “Guys!” Louder. No answer. “All right, then! But next time someone else is definitely it or I’m not playing anymore!” Johnny moves towards the tree concealing Ste from sight, realising he has moved further into the wood whilst he has been arguing the toss. “You’re not playing fair!” he shouts, sighing, before spotting Cal’s bright red t-shirt some metres away. He changes direction quickly, heading left, instead of right, after his new target, stumbling over a gnarled root he has failed to spot in his hurry to catch the others up. There is a dry twig’s crack behind him as he hits the unyielding earth hard with palms outspread, banging both knees. The pain is sharp; immediate; reverberating through him, then a hand is hauling him to his feet, dusting at his clothes. Ste has insinuated himself behind him – somehow – and is seeking to minimise the damage, though there is a tear at the knee of his trousers he will not be able to hide, never mind the dirt engrained into the fabric. “They’re going to kill me!” Johnny says plaintively.

    “Should watch where you’re going then, shouldn’t you, Brat?” Ste says, with an indulgent ruffle of the other boy’s hair.

    “Hey!” Johnny says. “Leave off!” He runs his own hands through his hair, managing to add dirt through it whilst doing so, then shakes his head vigorously to seek to rid himself of it, having realised belatedly what he has done.

    “We playing or what?” Cal has appeared from somewhere within the foliage himself now.

    “Johnny tripped,” Ste explains, a hand at the smaller boy’s shoulder. The other two boys exchange a glance.

    “I can play as good as you!” Johnny says quickly.

    “All right, Brat,” Ste answers. “Better prove it then, hadn’t you? One more chance or we’ll come without you next time, maybe.” Johnny is silent with the suggestion, waiting. “No Tag, I guess, given you’re not fast enough to catch us.”

    “I can run, Ste!” Johnny says, eager.

    “Something else,” Cal says. “Let’s play another game. You know the one.” He winks at Ste.

    “Can do,” Ste answers. “Hide and seek, then. You’re It!” he announces, pointing at Johnny, before both boys are away quickly, leaving him standing in the clearing beside the mottled bark of the root.
    “Count to one hundred!” Cal shouts, somewhere in the distance, as Johnny turns obediently, putting his hands over his eyes and begins to count down aloud.

    “Five…four…three…two…one!” Johnny finishes, turning around. He blinks rapidly to clear the shadows dancing in front of his eyes. He had been keeping them shut too tightly. After the shadows he is now starting to see blinking stars, dotted white lights across his vision. “Coming!” he shouts into the trees, pitching his voice as loud as he can. They always try to get as far ahead as possible, so he needs to try and make sure they hear him.

    All is quiet as Johnny moves forwards in between the branches, looking behind the trunks as he goes. He cannot hear them whispering to one another; has not heard the snapping of wood giving away their movements, as they seek to evade him.

    “You there, guys?” Johnny asks, voice lower in volume now. Surely they are near? “You’re trying to scare me now, aren’t you? I counted more than a hundred to give chance to hide, so play fair now!” Silence. “Come on! You can come out now!” Jonny continues, after a pause. “I’m not getting lost in here by myself. I know you’re round the corner somewhere, waiting for me! Besides, it won’t be me who gets killed if someone has to come and find me, will it?” Still nothing, save a brief whisper of wind through the leaves, before calm descends again and Johnny is seemingly on his own, without even the breeze around him for company.

    “I’ll tell!” Johnny says, tears starting to form in the corner of his eyes. “I will!” He has no idea how long they have left him for but knows it is longer than on previous occasions, instinctively. Salt water rolls down one cheek, before he brushes it away swiftly, leaving dirt trailing in its wake. He swallows a sob down before it can escape, shoulders shaking. Finally, he settles himself onto the parched ground, careless of the seat of his trousers now, face towards a tree trunk, back to the open space to his rear, before the trees begin again.

    For the second time, Johnny begins to count, hands over his eyes; this time beginning with “One…” He reaches four hundred, he thinks, before he hears the crackling of twigs behind him and breaks off, pushing himself to his feet. A hand closes on his shoulder from above, large and tight, before he has turned fully.

    “Ste?” Johnny begins, knowing the answer. He’s designated It again.

    (1000 words)

    @FallIntoFiction

    • Lovely descriptive phrases throughout the story, such as “Still they sneak away, each summer, into the semi cool beneath the branches, where the sun’s rays cannot beat mercilessly on them, its midday peak forcing sweat from their pores.” and “Salt water rolls down one cheek, before he brushes it away swiftly, leaving dirt trailing in its wake”. Dry River Valley, is a great name, so visual. Well done!

  26. Fantastic entry, Beth. The setting was excellent and I could easily visualise the scene. The dialogue was realistic and well judged. Personally, I love films, documentaries and stories about native American people/characters, so this was a pleasant surprise. Great sense of adventure and perfect ending. Wonderful story.

  27. That Summer (952 Words)

    That summer, my eleventh, we paddled canoes on the lake during the hot days with the sun glaring down from the infinite blue. Grandma would yell from the porch, “Don’t forget the sun lotion” to us in general and to my brother, “Jimmy, you let Kelly play with you and the boys.”
    Jimmy would groan and jerk his head toward the canoes. “Come on, then. We’re goin’ to Turtle Island. Don’t cry if you get bit.”
    Jimmy rode with slender, blond Colin Burns. Jimmy said it was because they were the oldest and smartest. At fourteen, they were certainly the oldest.
    He’d stick me in the canoe with raven-haired Chris Holloway, who inspired a million fantasies in my budding imagination. He was always some kind of outlaw in need of redemption by a good woman, the stuff of too many a romantic novels. Behind me sat Danny Tramore, a solid, if uninspiring presence. He was a nice boy who wore braces and hadn’t hit his full growth spurt, though like a puppy he had enormous hands and feet. If he grew into them, he’d be a giant.
    I would ride between the two boys, my brown hair in a long braid down my back, sitting straight, pretending I was Sacagawea and feeling a bit like cargo.
    Turtle Island wasn’t much of an island. It was more like four acres of swampy muck covered with trees and patchy grass and rock. I loved it there. The boys would run off in search the snappers that would float just below the surface of the brown water, mouths open, waiting patiently for prey. You could lose a finger easy, Grandpa would warn me and hold up his left hand where the index and third fingers had been sheered off at the first knuckle. The boys didn’t care. They’d dip branches in the water or sometimes skewer a worm with a stick and dangle it close enough for the turtles to snap.
    I’d wander through the woods and listen to the rushing of the river, the chattering of the birds, the crackle of the twigs beneath my feet. Flies used to take a special delight in biting me, so I’d constantly swat the air like a crazy person. Still, I liked the green, the relief from the burning sun. I’d bring my sketchbook and sit on a tree root to draw and dream.
    Our routine followed familiar paths for much of that lazy summer until a particularly hot, late August day when I wandered off to my tree root as usual. My birthday was in two days, and I pondered what I wanted most. I closed my eyes.
    “That’s pretty good,” a lazy voice said, and I jerked around. Chris Holloway stood behind me staring down at my drawing. Of him.
    I slammed my book shut. “It’s not polite to sneak up on people.”
    He gave me a flat-eyed grin. “If you want to look at me, here I am.”
    “I just think you make a good subject artistically.”
    He sat next to me. “I think you’re full of it.”
    I noticed up close his clothes looked as if they’d been worn by one or two people before he ever got them. His right front tooth was slightly crooked, and I wondered what he was doing at the lake at all.
    “My old man works for Mr. Burns, so we live here year round,” he said as if I’d spoken out loud.
    “It’s pretty here.”
    “In the winter, the lake freezes. You can walk from one end to the other. Weird, huh? Not a whole lotta families around in the winter. It’s just gray.”
    “Don’t you get bored?”
    “Nah. I go play with all my cool video games on my 72-inch flat screen.” He screwed up his face. “Sure I get bored, dumbass.”
    “I’m not a dumbass.”
    He gave me a sly smile, and my heart gave a little jump. “Yeah, you kind of are.” He leaned over and kissed me, and not just a little dry kiss on the lips. The full on-tongue-in-mouth, red, hot kiss you see in movies. Worse, his hand slid down to my behind before he pulled away.
    I heard voices calling, but I was shaking, unable to answer.
    Chris Holloway stood and called, “I found her. We’ll meet you at the dock.” He looked down at me. “Don’t think you better tell your brother about this. He might get mad.” He picked up sketchbook and handed it to me. “Now you got your first kiss.”
    He gave me a hand up, and I followed him back to the dock where the others were waiting. I was sure Jimmy would notice something different about me, but he continued to laugh and joke with the others.
    I climbed back into the canoe with Danny Tramore and Chris Holloway. The picture I had drawn had ripped and become smudged with mud. I closed the book. Sweat was running down my face, and I didn’t feel like much like Sacagawea now. But I sat up straight and looked out over the brown water.
    We paddled down the river under the relentless sun, and when we got back I stood in the shower and wondered why I felt so odd. When I looked in the mirror, I saw the same girl, but something had changed. The girl had become more knowing or maybe I didn’t want to think of myself as a dumbass.
    Had Chris Holloway stolen something from me, or had he taken something I wanted to give? For so many years I’ve pondered the question, but I’ve never found the answer. Maybe it lies with that eleven-year old girl who remains forever on Turtle Island.

    • Lovely storytelling. It’s got the ‘coming of age’ theme nicely nailed. Nice scene setting on the island. I liked the way she looks back at the event unsure of what it meant to her. Good luck!

  28. Three weeks ago, he was dead.

    Now, I wish he was dead again.

    Grief is a funny thing. It makes you do things you would never normally consider. Like all those BS spam messages you get on Twitter and Facebook. You know the ones…

    “Click ‘like’ if you think world peace is awesome.”

    “RT me if you want to end suffering in the third world.”

    “Forward this if you miss a loved one and would give anything to have them back for just one week, to let them see the world through the eyes of a child.”

    The digital world has been my real home since the funeral. People don’t know what to say, they tend to avoid me. Being on-line removes all that. People say what they feel. So, sure, I clicked it. What harm could it do? I’d done it a few times before and nothing happened.

    A few days later, he shows up. Naturally, I fainted. Thought it was a dream – did all the stuff you see in movies, but it was real. He’s not a zombie, or anything crazy like that. It’s him, well sort of, maybe how he was as a teenager…

    Sure, hiding him has been a problem. It’s just me and my best mate, Jumbo. Jumbo freaked, I mean he properly freaked when I showed him.

    Mum is working away this week, thank God! I’ve managed to hide him in the garage.

    I’m sure he’s been going out at nights. I’m finding more random stuff each day. I have no idea how he gets it, he musta stolen some credit cards. I think he’s been keeping the car windscreen repair people busy in the neighbourhood, too.

    Today, he’s sporting sunglasses indoors, fake gold chains and a t-shirt, with ‘YOLO’ written on the front, which is ironic. His jeans are three sizes too big, deliberately pulled down, hanging off his saggy arse. His underwear is fully showing. I never really understood how this looked good to anyone, even setting aside the practicalities. But, dad doesn’t even get the fundamentals right. You know that elastic bit that normally has something like ‘CK’ written on it? His are Y-fronts, embossed with “Underpants 4 men”.

    “I is looking dench, man?”

    He’s been doing the faux-gansta routine for a few hours now.

    “What are you talking about, dad?” I reply.

    “Don’t hit me wit that dad label. I is Tom Sawyer, two point zero. I is the badest ass in da hood…Ya hear wot I’m sayin?…Ya need to chill, bro… I’m just hanging wit my krew…Ya hear me?”

    Did he just say that? Seriously? This is wrong, on so many levels.

    I should have sussed it before clicking it. Strange things were happening. Blockhead from school falls sick, I mean really sick. His hair started falling out in his lunchtime KFC bucket. A few weeks back, I wished him harm; after he decided to beat the hell outta me for having a day off school to go to the funeral.

    Then Huck and Finn, the twins, they both ran into each other at full speed during a football game; I mean what are the chances of them both being in a coma? They stood and laughed as Blockhead beat seven shades out of me. Let’s just say I didn’t wish them well either.

    A teacher got food poisoning.

    The school mascot, Fuzzface, got run over…

    I go to dad’s makeshift bedroom in the garage. I route through his stuff, I have no idea how he got any of it. It smells like medieval alchemy.

    The room is full of shadows and dull grey metallic surfaces. On the tool-cabinet, I find a job application, it reads ‘Secret Agent’, and he’s put his name as J. Bond. He’s put ‘plenty’ in the sex field. He’s listed his GTA 5 achievements in the accomplishment section. In memberships, he’s listed gold membership to the local strip club.

    Then I see the hand-scrawled note, in Jumbo’s handwriting. Jumbo is my best mate, but he’s pretty stupid. He tells everyone he’s called Jumbo because he’s blessed with a Jumbo sausage, in reality, let’s just say, politely, he’s BMI challenged. The note reads…

    Instructions for secret formula cologne (guaranteed success)
    • 3 parts Brute (can’t beat the classics)
    • 2 parts Hai Karate (be careful how you use it)
    • 1 part banned pheromone (do NOT use more than this, or you might have problems with animals)
    • 1 part WD40 (women love a guy that smells like he can fix stuff)

    I put the list down. I need to talk to Jumbo; he’s hardly helping matters.I run in the house to tell dad that this has to stop. I find him with a backpack full of stuff.

    “What you got there, dad?”

    No response, just a childish snigger.

    “Show me what you got..er, Sawyer”

    “I’m ready to nuke this town.”

    He tips his supplies on to the table.

    One air pistol.
    A tin of three hundred pellets.
    An improvised blow-pipe made out of an empty biro.
    A ninja star, that looks like it will break mid-air.
    Five cans of XXL caffeine energy drink.
    Twenty stink-bombs!

    “Lunden town should prepare for war!” His war-paint face looks serious.

    I realise there is nothing much I can do. At first, I was overwhelmed to see him. Then I thought his behaviour was kinda comical. Now I feel like I’m babysitting a delinquent younger brother.

    Last night I caught him looking at the adult channels, his glasses steamed up, his mouth hanging open like a dog.

    I’m not sure what happens after a week, I have four more days to go and I’m not sure I can make it.

    My phone pings. Social media notification.

    A spam message, from @wormwoodsixsixtysix.

    “Do you ever wish a problem would just disappear? RT me to make your wish come true.”

    My finger hovers, poised over the button…

    @Making_Fiction
    986 words

    • I had a working title of ‘Spam’ for this and couldn’t think of anything better.
      I only did a second entry as I had two ideas in my head. I went with the first one, but it was fairly intense and took a bit out of me, so I felt the need to focus on something fun and enjoyable to write to balance it out a bit 🙂
      Good luck, fellow trouble-makers.

      • Thanks Marie, if nothing else it made me feel a bit better. Totally appreciate the fact that this is your second review and feedback (and you’ve been doing many others too) – very kind of you.

  29. Teacher’s Pet (866 words)
    @brett_milam

    Ian and Chad were inseparable, like plastic melted onto a stove top.

    I was on the peripheral looking in. I’m not even sure why they kept me around. I was pudgy, pimple-faced, and wore my dad’s AC/DC shirt every day.

    Thinking about it now, they probably kept me around because I gave them their first lighter. A slick black manifestation of human ingenuity: the Zippo.

    We, well, Ian, felt like a god with that Zippo in his Levi’s. He fiddled with the flip-top, flipping it and closing it, flipping it and closing it. His little thumb caressed the thumb-wheel, like it was a baby turtle’s head.

    The first time he caught the wick on fire, the flame seduced his young, black eyes and that’s when everything changed.

    I guess I’m to blame for that, but I was a kid, too.

    Chad was developing faster than Ian, he had broad shoulders for a kid, a long neck and large hands. Ian was wiry, snake-like with his thin frame and pointy head. But he was the street smart one.

    He could talk the teachers down when they caught him with the Zippo. Something made up on the spot, but convincing with his peppering of charm.

    “Sorry, Mrs. Corbit, my old man had me carry it for him yesterday. I must have left it in my pants. Didn’t even notice the little guy in there,” he’d say.

    He got a kick out of showing the Zippo to the girls. Girls like Piper, a strawberry-blonde and one of the few without metal between her gums and air between her ears. Something of a teacher’s pet, but I think that’s why Ian took a liking to her. It was a challenge.

    And he said her hair looked like billowing fire.

    Every week he offered her the same proposal, “Piper, you wanna come over to our place after school? We got this enormous tree house in the backyard. We want to make you a member of our group.”

    And through the fall, winter and spring, she’d say no. Didn’t deter Ian any. He’d just flash his smile and flip the Zippo in his pocket. Click, click, click.

    In the meantime, the flame dancing on the Zippo’s wick had become too small-time. It not longer was the sensual mistress before his eyes.

    That’s when Ian took Chad’s hermit crab, known as Yuck, with the yellow shell and brought him to the tree house. Yuck went into a saucepan and didn’t move. Not sure if he was too dumb or too scared.

    Then Ian prodded Yuck until he exposed his head and touched the flame from the Zippo to it. Not much happened, other than Yuck disappearing underneath his shell.

    “This shit ain’t working,” Ian said. “I’ll be back. Chad light a cig.”

    Chad had taken to smoking cigarettes after I showed him the Zippo. With his big hands, they were easy to steal.

    Ian returned with a gas canister for the lawnmower. He had a determination in his eyes that made me cower back in the corner of the tree house.

    He took the lid off the nozzle and poured it into the saucepan and onto Yuck.

    “Gimme your cig, Chad.”

    Chad did. He tossed the lit cigarette onto the gas with Yuck drowning in it. Nothing happened except that the tree house smelled like gasoline. We didn’t know at the time that a cigarette and gasoline doesn’t make fire happen, as the movies had shown.

    Amateur, budding arsonists had a lot to learn.

    And they, I guess, we, did. Ian wouldn’t make the same mistake again. Once summer came around and he asked Piper the same question he’d been asking all school year, something cracked in her teacher’s pet facade. She said yes.

    Before long, Ian let her flip the Zippo, a rite of passage.

    Like an insatiable fire, Ian had a way of escalating exponentially. He just wanted to see what would happen if he touched the Zippo’s flame to her coral reef summer dress, back behind the tree house. Don’t know if he meant to kill her. Still don’t. But probably.

    The flame licked at her hem and soon covered the length of her dress. She tried to rip it off to avoid the fire, but the dress had melted onto her skin and the fire continued to spread.

    Chad leaned against the trunk of the tree house watching and pulled on his cigarette. I looked down at my dirt-covered toes. Her scream and pleas for help washed ashore at my consciousness. I hoped that the smoke inhalation would squelch her suffering.

    Ian was different than us. He smiled as the flames intensified. Piper fell to her knees and then face planted onto the grass. Chad used a blanket to smother the rest of the flames.

    Sitting in a six-by-eight foot concrete block with two other men and a shit-stained toilet, that image of Ian smiling stays with me.

    The lick of the flame was seductive to him. To all of us.

    • Wow! I thought this was fantastic, Brett. I spent a large amount of time reading it with my mouth open. Very well written. Very intense. I loved how the zippo became a character in the story and the click, click, click visuals/sounds were powerful. Poor Piper, she never knew what was coming, so sad.

  30. Summer Fever
    (814 words)

    Charles, or what was left of him, was down. Ten maybe twenty hunters were on him. The group didn’t waste energy going back to help him. It conserved. It continued.
    Nothing could be done. That was life now: efficient, perpetual motion.
    The group headed for the woods. Once swallowed by its shadows, movement would be faster. Its shade would provide relief from the blazing sun and would allow the distance between hunter and hunted to grow.

    It was, Fawn, the youngest, who broached the subject first,
    The Bogeymen got Cook!
    At the start, Scout, their leader, had tried to stop the others from depicting the hunters as anything other than a natural enemy, avoiding associations with monsters or demons. This new world was strange enough. But the idea stuck anyway.
    Charles was the Cook, in effect, Scout’s second in command. His absence was bound to have an effect on the group, but Scout kept things practical Don’t dwell.
    Her priority, at this point, was to prevent agitation from spreading. Agitation took up too much energy. It caused trouble. They had lost enough of the group to the season’s temperatures, to the hunters, to the traps.

    All of them carried war wounds. Brook’s foot was bad. He had shredded it escaping the metal teeth of one of the traps. The summer heat only intensified the putrid smell that burst from his training shoe as he brought his wounded foot out, skin flapping.
    Put that away! Fawn, again.
    Put it away. They’ll sniff us out faster, if we’re exposing any kind of weakness.Scout’s instruction was calm, but it was as much an instruction to Fawn as Brook.
    “Make sure you keep things level,” was her underlying message.
    They needed their energy at a future point. Always.
    It was Scout who had discovered that they ran faster, thought better, heard clearer, saw further, when they were calm. Emotion was useless.

    Crack! Pressure on a branch somewhere.
    They all heard it except Fawn. Luke made his way in three equal steps to a gap in the trees.
    Can you hear a bogeyman? Fawn had now interpreted the others’ movements bringing her in synch with the rest of the group.
    Only two of them. They’re eating. Luke’s eyes were the best they had.
    Food! Fawn’s hunger seemed more ferocious each day, perhaps because she was having a growth spurt. But they were all hungry.

    Organised and noiseless, the group made a circle around their enemy. Something about the noises they made was familiar. Scout attempted to numb the part of her brain that the sounds seemed to trigger.

    But she had already journeyed back to a time before; the fragrance of freshly cut grass hitting her nostrils. Her sense of smell sharper, now, superimposing itself on the flashback. And the sound of clawing crashed through her so that it fired vibrations along her nerves. The gaping maw. The first bite. Her body in spasms.

    Luke signalled her. Scout snapped straight into the present again.

    The hunters’ movements had a growing sense of urgency. They must have become aware of the group somehow, perhaps the stench of Brook’s injury had given them away.

    No time to waste. Attack!
    The group rushed at them. In a moment, the pair were pinned down. Two hunters were easy enough to capture. It was when they came in packs, that they were a threat to the group.

    The thin hunter was quick to work out Scout was the leader, but she refused to give him eye contact. He chattered fast. His sounds were triggering nothing now. This was meal time. No nonsense.
    ‘You used to be my neighbour. Don’t you remember me? Charles’ dad? Have you seen him….Charles?’
    Hunger had taken over her brain.
    She used her set of gestures to order her new Cook to begin.

    First, he started with the fat hunter’s stomach, carving into it, trying not to puncture the internal organs. They wanted those to last- the best parts. The first red, veiny chunk of meat was flung out to Fawn who caught it in her teeth, hunched down, hands and face to the ground and devoured it.

    Luke had watched closely, ready to step into the role of Cook if need be.
    Efficient, perpetual motion. Scout made it that way.
    Without her, there would have been no organisation, no group, no regular food, because it was she who taught them how to communicate. For, in this state, their mouths served only one purpose, and it was Scout who initiated the set of visual signals that now articulated their world.

    Charles was the first to be turned by infection, and Scout was the first of them to have turned whatever this existence was into something more…something new.

  31. Chalmer’s Farm
    by A J Walker

    It was to become our summer of bikes. All four of us finally had them, our freedom to roam miles from home, to have adventures far from the prying eyes of parents, girls and, most importantly, the older boys from town. Our horizons had definitely moved.

    It was the third of July when we went on our first big trip, it was about fifteen miles across dirty disused tracks up to Chalmer’s Farm. We’d all heard the stories about what had happened there. It was a derelict place of death and infamy. It probably wasn’t that unusual back during the poor times, but the whole family had been found dead there – I’d heard eight people, others had heard more – and the mystery of Chalmer’s Farm was never solved. Probably wasn’t a big deal and I dare say it didn’t even rate as a mystery outside the twenty miles from our town. Poor people never matter, but they matter even less when they’re dead.

    Anyways, on this little adventure there was me, Dave, Sid and Tony. Our satchels stuffed with food and drinks and our chests puffed out with the powerful feeling of being grown up. Excitement welled up in all of us and as we headed beyond the outskirts of town I could see it in their faces, they had the same buoyant feelings as me.

    The bike felt fantastic to me, but looking back it was a real bone shaker. Maybe why I never managed to have any kids later that bike. I called it Dog because I wanted a dog and dad wouldn’t get me one. I found out later that the third of July was the beginning of the Dog Days, which was a nice coincidence. But that’s not this story.

    It was a really hot day, my mother would have said you could fry an egg on a rock on days like this, but I never saw her do it. We ignored the heat and kept riding and riding until Dave hit a rock and came off. Back then that was the most blood I’d ever seen, on a person anyways. He was okay after we’d cleaned him up a bit and he didn’t cry once. We had to straighten his wheel up, and I confess it didn’t ride right afterwards. I think Tony blamed me for that, rather than the rock or himself for hitting it. To be fair I’d never said I was no mechanic. We stopped there a while and ate some and joked around. I don’t think I’d ever felt so happy with people that weren’t my family. I still smile when I remember Dave telling Tony he’d seen a scorpion scoot under the rock he was sat on. I’ve never seen anyone move so fast and we all laughed so hard our sides really did hurt, even Tony.

    After the scorpion incident we all pedaled our steeds onward, slower now in the midday sun and after the adrenaline rush of leaving town had faded. There weren’t any more incidents, not until we got to the farmstead anyway.

    Once we saw Piggot’s Wood I knew we were nearly there, I’d been past here once before and I even remember seeing a map my father had. I loved maps, they spoke even more than books to me about places, possibilities, stories past and future. When I grew up I wanted to make maps for a living. Well I did when I was about this age if I recall rightly.

    Tony had streaked ahead as his bike was bigger than ours and he was bigger too as he never stopped reminding us. Thankfully that was not to last. He always had to get to the top first, or to the corner, to see things first. Like we wouldn’t have found the obvious ourselves.

    ‘There it is. Chalmer’s place,’ he shouted back to us.

    Sure enough there was a sad wooden building, nothing more than a falling down shack, much smaller than I remembered.

    ‘That’s too small for a farm,’ Sid laughed. ‘There was no eight people killed there, they couldn’t fit in.’

    I was sure I was right, but I didn’t rise to his bating.

    ‘Come on,’ Sid said. ‘Let’s find us some bodies, or better still some ghosts or treasure.’

    And off he went.

    When we got there it was so small, little bigger than our woodshed. Tony, Dave and me walked around inside, poking holes through the wood. It was like paper, clouds of wood dust crumbled as we walked around it.

    ‘This place is gonna fall on us if we don’t get out soon,’ I said.

    ‘Yep,’ said Dave, ‘Then there’ll be another four bodies here.’

    ‘Well, three,’ said Tony. ‘Where’s Sid?’

    He was always an odd one, Sid. A loner. Sometimes we preferred it when he didn’t come out with us, but he was our friend we’d grown up together and sometimes he would do the most selfless thing and he could say something beautiful. I’m pretty sure he did anyway, but usually he was just a bit odd; and trouble.

    ‘Sid!’ We all shouted.

    There was no reply.

    We found him out back. He had his damn magnifying glass out.

    ‘What’s you trying to burn?’ said Dave.

    ‘Some old book,’ he shrugged, ‘Think it was a diary.’

    ‘What? One of the people that died?’

    He nodded, ‘Could be?’

    I looked to the other three, ‘Don’t you wanna read it? There could be clues in it as to what happened.’

    Sid shrugged as he took his sheltering hand away from the book, ‘You know what I think of reading. Nothing good comes out of reading.’

    He tossed the flaming diary through the window and that was it. We stood and watched before we got a bit scared about it, then we pedaled home fast, hardly speaking. That was how Chalmer’s Farm got burned down that summer. Only us four knew about it and we never did talk about it much.

    (1000 words)
    @zevonesque

    • I liked the sense of foreboding from the house, you built this up well throughout the story. Some great lines in here, for me, the best one was “Poor people never matter, but they matter even less when they’re dead.” Not many words, but they’re so brutal and cutting. Wishing you luck.

  32. “Ranger” by H.L. Pauff – 822 words.

    “What. Is. That?” Sid asked, staring at the shaggy ball of fur sitting in the living room. Its tongue hung out of its mouth and its tail beat against the carpet.

    “This is Ranger,” his mom said. “I don’t know what breed he is, but he’s a sweetie pie.” She stroked the panting animal’s head causing its eyes to roll into the back of its head with delight.

    “Uh, what is that doing here?”

    “Uh, he lives here now. Duh,” his mom said. “He’s your dog.”

    “I don’t want that thing. Why would I want that thing?”

    “Dogs are good companions. A boy needs a good dog. I thought that since it’s the first summer without your father that… you know. Go see Sid, Ranger.”

    Ranger trotted towards Sid and sat before him. Its dark brown eyes looked up at him and it almost looked like it was smiling when it panted.

    “What I want is to play ball with dad. Why can you bring him back here instead of this stupid thing?”

    His mother sighed. “Your father made his choice. You know he’s not going to…”

    “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever. It still doesn’t mean I want this ugly idiot.”

    Sid avoided Ranger as best he could during the first few weeks of summer vacation. If he was out in the yard throwing a ball against the barn and Ranger came out, he would go inside and leave the dog out there.

    When he rode his bike up and down the dirt road, he would make sure to ride extra hard to tire out the chasing Ranger. By the end of the day, Ranger would be too exhausted to bother him anymore.

    At night his mom began to open his bedroom door and he would wake up with a snoring Ranger lying in his bed. There wasn’t much he could do about that except yell at Ranger when he woke up and yell at his mom over breakfast.

    “I’m going to the swimming hole,” he announced one afternoon and tiptoed down the stairs so Ranger wouldn’t hear him up and about. As he pushed open the front door, he heard his mom yell “Take Ranger with you.”

    Ranger’s little legs could barely keep up with Sid’s purposefully long strides. The shaggy brown mess carried a stick alongside Sid and begged for him to throw it every so often. Sid would heave the stick as far into the woods as he could and then start running when the dog was out of sight. Somehow, the dog always found its way back to Sid’s side with the same stupid stick.

    “You can’t come swimming with me,” Sid told him at the swimming hole. This is my spot. Well, my dad showed me this spot so it’s only for family. That means you can’t come in.”

    Ranger’s eyes were focused on the body of water twelve feet below them. Its ears were perked up and its tail was moving a million miles per second. “Did you hear me? Are you listening? You can’t go in there. I don’t want your stupid dog fur polluting it.” Its ears perked up and its plopped down on the ground. “Good. You stay there and don’t you dare move or I’ll leave you here and tell my mom a coyote ate you.”

    Sid stripped down and took a dozen steps away from the ledge of the swimming hole like he always did to get a running start. “Now, you better watch this,” he said to Ranger. “This is called the Sid Special and dogs aren’t capable of doing something this cool. I bet I’ll make a big enough splash that you’ll get soaked all the way up here.”

    Sid started sprinting towards the ledge and jumped. He tucked his knees in and folded his arms around them. The splash of water reached high into the air, but not high enough to splash Ranger.

    Ranger stood and wagged its tail as Sid came up the trail for another jump. “Sit back down,” he said and the dog obeyed. “I bet I can splash you this time. I forgot to do the little turn that my dad showed me. Watch.”

    He took off running again and at the ledge he tried to jump, but the loose dirt beneath his feet gave way and he tumbled forward, smacking his head against the ledge before plunging into the water.

    Sid woke hours later with a pounding headache and a bump on his head to match. The sun had begun to set and his body had long since dried. He remembered slipping and falling. “How did…” He sat up and looked around and saw that he was lying far from the water. Ranger sat in front of him with its tongue sticking out and its tail beating against the ground.

    Sid reached out and ruffled the fur atop Ranger’s head. “All right. All right.”

    • You built the story up strongly, so much so, that I could almost see the events happening before they did – but I still liked how it unfolded. Very nice descriptions of the dog. Good luck!

  33. The Waterfalls Ghost

    I don’t believe the legend of the waterfalls ghost. Ghosts are not real. I am ten. I know. I just love visiting the falls on hot, humid afternoons. I get goose bumps just thinking about the cloud of mist and cool drops of water on my sticky face. I want to go to the waterfalls this instant. It’s deathly hot here today. This horrid humidity will suffocate me if I wait any longer. I need air. The girls are waiting for me, and they can’t pull it off without me, but I am grounded for two weeks and can’t go. Argh!

    Muttering under my breath, I step outside and wander into the backyard. I almost burst out in a cry of joy when I see my bike leaning against the wall. Looks like Ma forgot to stash it away this morning. Well, no time to worry about Ma now.

    I take off on my bike. My red dress billows in the wind, but I clutch my precious pocket with one hand. The road to the waterfalls is deserted in the afternoon. I am pedaling so fast, I feel as if I am floating on air. My cheeks feel hot. Silence all around me except for the sound of pedals ringing in my ear. The smell of melting pavement tar fills my lungs. The idea of bringing the legend of waterfalls ghost back to life makes me feel brave!

    The waterfalls rumble in the distance. As I round the last bend, I see Nina. A pile of bright rocks lies in front of her. She still collects rocks. Argh! Shana sits on a big rock, splashing water. I leave my bike on the rocks and run to them. Mandy is holding court by telling them the story of the waterfalls ghost. She has them in thrall. I see Nina’s eyes bulge. Shana tries to look unconcerned, but I can tell she is spooked too. I, myself, don’t believe in ghosts. Only imbeciles do. Waterfalls ghost! Ha!

    Mandy cinches her story neatly with the climactic line, “Spirit of the drowned woman, with her glowing butterfly tattoo, haunts the town every third day after the full moon.” Nina quickly counts number of days till the next full moon on her fingers, but Shana interrupts her, “Jeez, Nina, stop being so afraid! She snorts. Shana’s attempt at bravery is shot with a cold stare from Mandy. When she sees me, she demands to know, “Did you bring the veil?” I pull the veil from my pocket. “Yes,” I say emphatically, “Let us do this before they open the gondola rides for the evening.”

    Mandy and I pin the veil on the dark haired mannequin head that Mandy had found in the trash last week; that was when we cooked up this scheme. It takes several tries before we arrange the head on a big rock.

    “Go up to the cable car platform and tell us how she looks.” Mandy barks an order to Nina, who happily runs to the platform. “Oh my god, she looks so spooky.” Nina yells from above. I can tell she feels special to be included in our prank this year. She tries so hard to please Mandy. Nina — Mandy’s little sheep.

    Dusk is descending by the time we finish and arrive to the cable car platform to watch. People are lining up. Shana is giggling uncontrollably. “Shh!” Mandy’s commanding voice startles Nina, who is looking at the cables nervously. “A contraption held up so high by just the two swinging cables, so scary.” She says. She never rides the cable cars. Nina is such a scaredy-cat!

    “You girls have the tickets?” The operator asks.
    “Hmm.. no, we are waiting for my parents.” Quick thinking Mandy to the rescue!
    “Come back with your parents then.” The operator shoos us away.

    We scoot over to the rocks and inch by inch climb to watch the cable car platform. Our mannequin looks eerie through the mist and the diffused dusk light.

    In the crowd, I glimpse a woman’s bare shoulder with a butterfly tattoo. She shifts, her kohl-lined eyes stare at me, and then she disappears just as quickly as she had appeared. May be it is just my imagination. Did I tell you, I don’t believe in ghosts?

    We hear a shriek. One woman on the platform is screaming and clutching the operator for her dear life. Her shaking finger points to the mannequin rock. Two other women now join in the screaming, and soon there is a big hullabaloo. The bumbling operator frantically pushes some buttons. An incoming cable car speeds up and bumps into the stationary car.

    We can barely contain our giggles. “Now, that’s a grand success! Let’s get outta here before someone sees us.” Mandy takes control as usual. We quietly retreat. Once on the road on our bikes, they all burst out in a laughing fit. I join in, but I still can’t shake that woman and her butterfly tattoo out of my mind. I can’t and won’t tell them. I am not the imbecile of the group.

    Ma is furious when I get back, but what else is new?

    It’s still hot, so at night we camp in the backyard.

    In the middle of the night, I hear a faint creaking noise. I peek through the covers. I see a shadowy figure, and then hear the clickety-clack of the heels. In the moonlight, I see the luminous butterfly tattoo creeping towards me. I am breathless, but my heart is exploding. I can’t move. When was the full moon? umm… Was it two.. three days ago? Could it be the waterfalls ghost? Wait, is it angry because I made fun of the ghosts?

    Someone pulls my covers.

    “Don’t you ever make fun of me!” The shadow whispers in my ear.

    I scream. Mom switches on the backyard light.

    Nina stands over my cot with a glow-in-the-dark butterfly and a smug grin.

    @needanidplease
    996 words
    Who says I can’t be silly! 🙂

    • Nice entry. I thought there was a strong narrative voice and her opinions and personality came through loud and clear. Really good scenario and great ending. Well done 🙂

  34. Bazaar Fun
    (980 words)
    @mishmhem

    Andy breathed a sigh of relief as he finished carrying the last box to his parents’ stand at the town bazaar. The only thing worse than setup, was take down, but that wasn’t for 8 hours and anything could happen. Nobody knew that better than Andrew Fitzsimons.

    ‘Bazaar Days’ was one of his favorite events of the summer: it was one part craft fair, one part flea market, three parts parts carnival – and 100 percent fun. He’d been looking forward to it since school had let out a month earlier and the day was finally upon him. He planned on missing nothing.

    There was always something to do– and something new to see, and every year was different. This year, the biggest difference was the fact that he was now old enough to ‘help out’ at the stand. It wasn’t anything big – besides, he knew how the fair went – the first half was the craft fair and market and the carnival really didn’t get swinging until later on in the afternoon. His dad would cut him lose during the ‘slow time’ between three and four and he’d have at least an hour to shop – so he had to make it count.

    It was trade off: he’d have less time than usual– but he’d have something he usually didn’t have and that was money.

    By noon, the fair was in full swing and Andy had a good idea which of the booths he wanted to check out once he was free to ‘go play.’ When his dad sent him to the food court to pick up lunch he made a full circuit of the fair to make sure he hadn’t missed anything. By the time the afternoon slow-down hit at three, he was ready to begin.

    His first stop was the tintype booth – where he could get a picture of himself in a period costume of his choice. The only problem was, he couldn’t decide if he wanted to be a cowboy or an Arab Prince… well that and the fact that one picture would pretty much tap him out before he even got to the carnival, and so he continued on.

    Rather than admit defeat, Andy moved on to the next booth and began rummaging through the treasures to be found there. As he looked, he found a pair of wire frame glasses in an old wooden shipping box. His eyes lit up when he saw the stamps and when he asked the man behind the counter how much, the man shrugged and charged him a dollar for the whole thing, glad to be free of one more thing to box up.

    Treasure in hand, Andy moved to the next booth, and then the next. He found an old Radio Shack electronics kit that he wanted, but it was once again, too expensive, but there were too many booths to explore to worry about the things he couldn’t afford.

    With the cheer of an intrepid explorer in a foreign bazaar, rather than a teen in a small town festival, he moved on undaunted. At the next booth he found the lady and her daughter selling ‘gypsy lanterns’ decorated with jewels and smiled. He didn’t really want one and he could barely afford one if he did, but he knew his mom would love one of them. He nodded to the ladies behind the counter and headed back out into the crowd,. As he visited the next booth an idea began to form.

    Moving from booth to both he bought a few trinkets here and there, building his treasure. In addition to his antique glasses, he ended up with a handful of glass flat beads, an old burgundy velvet cloak, a handful of peacock feathers and a plate of funnel cake.

    Now the fun truly began.

    Goodies in hand he headed back to the stand where the woman was selling her lanterns, or was trying to– no one seemed interested. With a smile, he asked her if she could hold onto his funnel cake while he looked around.

    Before she could say anything he quickly rearranged her display, moving the lanterns from their plain wood shelves, he draped the cloak over the wood and scattered some of the glass ‘jewels’ and feathers, before carefully replacing the lanterns. The woman was about to object when he stepped aside, ostensibly to eat his funnel cake Three couples converged on her booth buying several of her lanterns and more than a few matching candle holders.

    She looked at Andy who smiled and nodded towards his parents’ booth. “It’s all about presentation,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.

    With a chuckle, she nodded in approval then smiled as he began dickering over the price of one the lanterns. When the price was settled, she signaled her daughter who gave him another as a ‘thank you’ present. Andy smiled and headed back to the Tintype booth.

    When the lady at the booth saw him again she looked at him expectantly. With a smile, Andy asked her if she was willing to trade, offering her the wire rim glasses and one of the lanterns to use as props in exchange for a picture.

    It took the glasses, the lantern and the rest of his peacock feathers but in the end, he had two pictures of himself – one as a cowboy and the other as a Gypsy Prince, and five more dollars in his pocket than he’d had when he’d started… just enough for the electronics kit he coveted– and a caramel apple… which he shared with the girl from the lantern shop before going back to help his folks pack up.

    That evening he met up with the girl from the lantern shop, and together they walked towards the rides. Andy smiled, all in all- a very good haul.

  35. 6570 Days
    by C. Stuart

    Waist high orchard grass, burnished bronze by the summer sun seemed to flow across the field, moved along by what passed for a breeze on the too hot day. When she was a child, her grandparents would’ve called the air ‘close’; at age 45 Allison Parker was in complete agreement with them. The air enfolded itself upon you, wrapping you in a cloak of stickiness, making you feel as though you were breathing through a hot and still wet wash cloth. Couple that closeness with the intense sun drying the moisture from whatever else it touched, the overly loud whir of cicada’s and the small insects with the very big bites and you knew you were in the late part of summer, in the southern part of Virginia.

    Leaving the Jeep by an old and falling apart red-painted gate, Allison could still see the path leading from the gravel road, across the bronzed field and down a small hill to the woods, beyond. Worn nearly bare by years of sneakered feet, it was surprising to her that she could still make it out through the overgrowth. With a small pack thrown across one shoulder, she went through the gate and stepped foot into the high grass.

    Once through the red gate, everything became familiar again. The smell of the dry orchard grass, the scent of late blooming honeysuckle and lilac, all conspired to overwhelm her senses. Walking the path once again, she was on auto-pilot. From the time she was eight years old until she’d left home for college, the path leading to the woods had been her escape on those hot summer days. Like most homes back then, the old stone house didn’t have air conditioning. Most of the time it didn’t matter; in July and August however, the metal roof and thick stone walls would act as a heat sink. Though marginally cooler than the outdoors, the place could still be unbearable, especially when you were trying to sleep.

    It took her less than five minutes to reach the edge of the woods. The path she’d been following ended abruptly between two large red-oaks. She remembered those trees too. Her first kiss had been under the spreading boughs of one of those trees. He was a boy from down the road, a local deputy’s kid. He was tall, tanned and looked at her with eyes that melted something inside her. She was sixteen the night he kissed her; that first kiss had made her giddy for a week.

    Allison patted the old tree, then continued on. Winding her way through the woods, she crossed through a grove of paw-paw trees. So late in the season, the too-ripe banana smell of the hanging fruit permeated everything for a hundred yards in every direction. She’d eaten them as a kid, usually after bagging some of them into a dip net and dropping them into the nearby creek. Looking around the grove, she saw the trees were now huge, some with trunks a good foot in diameter.

    Ignoring the fruit, she went through the grove and cut right. Up a small hill and down the other side, she came to two boulders the size of her Jeep. She leapt across a small ravine to the first of the boulders, nearly falling forward as the pack shifted. Holding it in one hand, she walked across to the other side.

    Allison stopped, a smile playing across her lips. In front of her was the place where she’d spent so much time as a girl. The swimming hole was about thirty yards across and a good fifteen feet deep. It had been formed in the summer of 1972 when Hurricane Agnes had unloaded on the area. Scouring the small brook into a river a half mile wide, her house had been an island, surrounded by water on three sides. It had taken the better part of two weeks for the flood waters to recede; when they had, the woods and the small brook were changed. The boulders she was standing on had washed in from somewhere and the rapidly flowing water had dug out the hole in the ground and filled it.

    She’d been terrified of the place the first time she’d seen it. As the spring turned to summer she moved closer, walking down the front of the second boulder to the water’s edge. The first time she stuck her feet in, she was hooked; Agnes’ flood had opened an artesian spring, bringing with it water at least twenty degrees cooler than that of the creek. Shortly after dunking her feet that first time, she waded in. Shortly after that she was swimming lazily back and forth across it, wondering what had terrified her so about ‘the swimming hole’.

    Allison fixed her eyes on the rippling waters. The place had been her private domain for years, until she’d invited several friends along to share it. She’d had her first (illegal) beer seated on the boulders, skinny dipped for the first time with her best friend Nancy on a moonlit August night and had cried angry and devastated tears the day she’d found out her father had died while tending to the few head of cattle they kept. The day of her dad’s death she promised to become a doctor. She had and was now one of the best and brightest at Johns-Hopkins.

    Gazing at the water, Allison set the pack down. For her first 6570 days, the swimming hole and the land around it had been her home. Stripping out or her clothes, she walked once more down to the water’s edge. Since her mother’s death, the family property had sat unused, the old stone house on top of it’s little hill, sad and empty with it’s broken windows and falling down front porch. Not anymore.

    At home, Allison Parker walked out a few feet. Feeling the glorious sunshine on her skin, she dove in head first.

    • Some beautiful writing here. I particularly loved the beginning “Waist high orchard grass, burnished bronze by the summer sun seemed to flow across the field, moved along by what passed for a breeze on the too hot day.” Nice joining of past, present and future.

  36. Three Forever
    Evan Montegarde
    995 words

    Sara had endured another long night shift. But before she left for the morning she went by Room 202 to check on Mr. Baker, the nicest patient she had ever encountered and one she considered a friend. She walked over to where he had rolled his wheelchair, “Mr. Baker sir,” she said gently shaking the apparently sleeping old man seated ramrod straight and turned toward the large picture window. She noticed he was clutching a small, well-worn baseball cap in his wrinkled hand. As she lifted his hand to take his pulse a crinkled photograph fell out of the cap, spinning lazily to the floor. She bent down and recovered the photo, she had seen it before, and she knew he treasured it. Mr. Baker had explained all about the three grimy unsmiling boys in that picture to her one quiet evening. She had been spellbound by Mr. Baker’s tales of adolescent mischief, life in early industrial America and ultimately the intrusion of fate, reality’s hard Mistresses….

    “We grew up different in Georgia in that day, tough as nails, hard-working, but boy we did we have us some fun dear,” Mr. Baker smiled at Sara. “ The world was not a particularly happy place and the growing nation needed labor; men, women, children, black, white, real old and very young, made no difference to the factory as long as you could understand English OK and were poor (which most everyone was). We worked in the cotton mill from dawn to dusk for basically no pay, but we got fed. We were expendable then too, nothing ever really changed for us. By the way, my friends called me Buster. I’m in the middle here in the picture, that’s Lil Dickey to my right and Tommy, my left. That boy in the background was our foreman Sammy; we didn’t particularly like him much. But as I said we did we have us some fun. I recall one particularly busy sweltering summer Friday morning at the mill I started it all with Lil Dickey….”

    “Can you run or what Dickey?” Buster yelled over the hum of the spinning bobbins. “See if you can cut’em without them seeing ya. Cause one hell of a snowstorm.”
    Dickey, knife in hand, ran like a mouse between the rows of swirling looms and cotton spindles, the tired, oblivious operators lost in endless tedium. Wielding his little knife like a Roman centurion he deftly slit each cotton line from the spindle sending raw cotton flying everywhere, filling the factory with white fluffy “snow.”
    The foreman couldn’t catch’em and soon everyone was screaming and yelling as Lil Dickey darted here and there among the spinning machines, cotton flying everywhere, chased by multiple foremen sliding and falling on the slippery cotton threads. “Now that was some fun….”

    “I will never forget the name ‘Belleau Wood’, despite the fact it aint’ filled with Georgia hickory trees, only weird French ones, the Germans and their Gewehr 98s. The three of us were drafted in 1917 and being dumb Georgia boys ended up grunts in a Georgia brigade. Not much happened until we hit the trenches on the front lines in France. We thought we would be OK deep down in the trench until a grenade landed next to Tommy, he never hesitated falling on it as it blew taking most of him with it but shielding us somewhat. The blast knocked Lil Dickey out of the trench and hit me full on, sort of like being whacked upside the head by a baseball bat.”

    “There wasn’t much left of Tommy, and Dickey, being dazed and confused, and suddenly outside the trench lying out there in that bloody barren field, stood up, not knowing where he was. Despite the intense pain and ringing in my ears I kept watching in horror as that lanky Georgia boy began checking his pockets looking for a smoke. Soon a couple of German bullets found him causing his body to convulse like some weird horrible dance; but Lil Dickey was tough and refused to fall; in fact he started running just like he was back cutting cotton between the bobbins and spindles.”

    “Get down and crawl you dam fool,” I kept yelling at that him but my voice was a hoarse whisper, tears streaming down my bloody face and filling my eyes.

    “In the Fog of War people do the strangest things, often they revert to what to they know best and Lil Dickey knew how to run. So there he was running all around that field, the Germans couldn’t hit’em again. Suddenly, everybody in the trench stood up and were yelling and screaming at him, urging him to run back here and make it. Dam it all if the Germans didn’t stop shooting and stood up to cheer him on from their side. It was like a football game or horse race as the befuddled Dickey ran this way and that. Dickey had almost weaved back toward our trench when he hit the landmine. There wasn’t much left of him after that. The cheering and hollers stopped cold and for a few brief seconds both trenches stood in silence. Soon the shooting would begin again but I no longer cared, my two best friends in the whole world were gone in a flash.”

    Sara’s memories suddenly faded as reality intruded. She was a nurse and couldn’t get a pulse from Mr. Baker’s limp wrist. She ran over to the red button near the wall and signaled a Code Blue. Any second, the crash cart team would invade the small room in a futile attempt to bring him back. But Sara knew where he was, he was reunited with his two friends; back in that picture in a world he could now never be taken from. He was happy again with Lil Dickey and Tommy, running among the endlessly spinning bobbins and spindles. And for once, she could see he was smiling.

      • Thank you very much Mark. I tried to capture a lifetime in the word limit and you sure are right about it being hard. It just seems so much of real life is a mixture of it all…good, bad and fun. Maybe we can’t appreciate the fun times without the bad?

  37. Carlos Orozco
    @goldzco21

    The Farmers Market
    996 words

    They say the devil hangs around in the most innocent places. I would have to agree with that statement, especially after I worked at the farmers market. It was where the evil started, for me. Or maybe I’m wrong, maybe it’s just the town I lived in that was dysfunctional. Who knows? Don’t care to find out. Not after that summer.

    I needed an excuse to avoid summer school so I decided to get a job. There were plenty to go around for a fourteen-year-old boy in a farming town. It wasn’t one of those out in the middle of nowhere places either. I decided to help my Dad’s friend sell fruits and vegetables at the market. The job was twice a week so it didn’t interfere with my free time too much, and I could make some spare cash. Seemed like a win for me.

    Jeff, my Dad’s friend, was a pretty laid back guy. He didn’t care if I showed up late. Hell, half the time he’d show up later than me, his breathe reeking of the whisky and cigarettes from the previous night. He would put on his sunglasses, sit back in his lawn chair, and doze until market closed. The few times he was awake, Jeff would give away produce to any woman that “looked like they put out.” The way he explained it, everything he sold was 100% profit so he could donate a few bags of cherries or blueberries to “women in need.” He would raise his eyebrows when he’d say that last part. See, I didn’t think much of it at the time, but he turned a profit because he would steal the goods from farms here and there, and then, reimburse local bars for the previous night’s tab.

    And Jeff was a saint compared to some of the other vendors. One time, a big cowboy looking fella’ came over from three stands down and started talking to me.

    “How’s it going? Damn hot out here ain’t it?” The cowboy said.

    “Ya, won’t cool down until Monday they say.”

    “I’ve had enough of this. Can’t stand the heat,” he said taking off his Stetson and fanning his head. “What you selling? Just blueberries?”

    “Na, we also got cherries and some corn. Just whatever we can pick in season. Soon we’ll have nectarines and maybe some apples,” I look at his stand. “What are you selling?”

    “Cabbage,” the cowboy replied, displaying a decaying smile. The chitchat went on for a couple minutes before he finally asked me what he’d been meaning to. “Hey, do you know anywhere I can score? You know, some smack?” He ran a hand through his dirty blonde hair and looked me straight in the eyes.

    I wasn’t completely oblivious as to what he wanted, but at the time I’d never seen the stuff, let alone know where to get it. It wasn’t until more recently that I danced with that dragon. That day though, I didn’t know much, I let him know that, and it was the last time I talked to the cabbage cowboy.

    Most often I’d come across a certain married woman in the market—Lucile. She never looked for fruits and vegetables, but instead, looked for something more adventurous and just as perishable. She would wear high heels and short skirts. Her blouses always tight against her slim body and they were usually low-cut too.

    Now I’m not saying I’m something special to look at, but it didn’t seem like she was looking for special, just something different. She would always save a provocative gesture just for me. Most of the time it was a long gaze and a seductive smile; but some daring days Lucile went far beyond that. She would approach our stand and stoop forward low enough to catch Jeff’s attention if he was awake. He would then come over to me, rub my shoulders, and say, “boy, you’re going to go home with some fruit of your own.”

    I never did anything with Lucile, even when she flat out told me how she wanted to use me. It used to be against my ethics. And besides, I had another thing that interested me more. I was a troublemaker. I pulled pranks in those days. I’d let the air out of tires, cut slits on the bottom of shopping bags, and hide the other vendors’ tarps so they’d have to work in the sun. It was mostly
    innocent fun. I never hurt anyone, not then anyway.

    But the last prank I pulled was the only one I really regret. It was toward the end of August, and I had an M-80 left over from the 4th of July. I lit and dropped it in a cucumber bucket at the market’s center. The explosion was loud, and cucumber bits flew everywhere. A small girl let out a shriek, pointed me out, and her bald dad started after me. I ran. The bald man caught me and threw me onto the ground. I was between a wall and him with nowhere to go. He gripped my shirt collar and yelled,

    “Are you stupid kid?”

    No.

    “My daughter could be deaf because of you.”

    She wasn’t deaf. She was perfectly fine.

    “It’s idiots like you that make the world dangerous.”

    No one was hurt.

    “You evil bastard. I ought a kill you.”

    He didn’t—he just beat me until I passed out. I was taken to the hospital and my mouth was wired shut for over a month. I couldn’t tell anyone that it was just an innocent prank. That I was nothing compared to Jeff, Lucile, the cowboy, or the bald man. Instead, people would say how I was depraved and wicked among other things. It’s funny how if you’re told you’re something enough times you eventually become it. I never went back to the farmers market, but since that day, it seems like I got the devil on my back.

    • AAHH. Where are my italics? Dragon Master Supreme, can I get some italics. In the last spurt of dialogue the: no, She wasn’t deaf…, No one was hurt, and the he didn’t before the hyphen are supposed to be in italics. Thank you.

  38. Alissa Leonard
    977 words

    The vibrations from Mrs. Cockle’s scream sends a school of snapper scattering and makes my teeth throb, but I keep swimming. Her scream has nothing on Momma’s. Besides, I only put a tiny shark among her clambeds…

    I glance to make sure she isn’t following, then speed ahead to catch the current that will take me to my secret cave. She certainly got a good look at me; I’m hard to miss. My algae, skin, scales, and gills are red, orange, yellow, and gold respectively instead of normal greens and blues or at least browns. But I read the rules carefully, and being seen isn’t grounds for disqualification.
    Being caught is.

    I curse my parents and ancestors for their ‘artistic sensibilities’ and the breeding plan that culminated in me: a freak. However, those same sensibilities will cause them to completely forget Mrs. Cockle’s complaint by the time I get home, so it could be worse.

    I dive out of the current and approach my favorite patch of coral. The colors and variation attracted me at first – bright yellows next to deep pinks and pale purples in all shapes and sizes. I noticed my cave only after hours spent inspecting the diversity. The coral grew up and around it, blocking it from view, but I followed a clownfish down into the reef, under the green shelf next to the blue spikes.

    I dart there now, thankful I haven’t grown too big yet. Several twists and turns later, I enter the cave and swim straight to the two shells on the shelf. I lift the clamshell out of the first one and move it to the second, already filled with symbols of my initiation tasks. I have only a single sun-cycle to complete all eight tasks, which gives me until shortly after sunset to do this last one.

    I lift the stone from the shell, wishing its form was something other than human.

    Humans should be avoided.

    I have to take a human thing and replace it with something I made.

    I place the stone back in the shell, and slip the shell bracelet I made onto my wrist. I need to breathe before I start this. I swim to a tunnel at the back of the cave and follow it up to a secluded pool.

    I lay on my back and just float, my gills swaying in the water beneath me, my lungs breathing in long and deep, and my skin absorbing all it can. I need every bit of energy to pull this off. My coloring will make stealth practically impossible, but I have to try. Going at sunset is my only chance. Hopefully it’s colorful tonight.

    I take a deep breath and return through the cave and out into the open water toward shore. My nerves make me hyper-sensitive to the movement of the water and the tastes and vibrations and songs. I approach the cove I’ve chosen, and the crashing of the waves drowns out a lot of the other sounds.

    There’s a long pier jutting into the water; which is my reason for choosing this cove. I need cover. A group of humans have a fire on the beach. Three. Too many. I consider leaving to find another, but then I see the sea turtle.

    It’s tied down, pinned to the beach with rope and staked into the sand. A pile of things lie close to the surf. I could easily grab one and go… But the turtle starts grunting and pulling at the restraints. I have to do something.

    Slowly, I glide under the pier, navigating around the logs until I’m close enough to shore to place my hands on the sand. The turtle is several body-lengths from the edge of the water. I see no way to get there fast enough to avoid being seen.

    The humans are on the opposite side of the fire. Behind me, the setting sun sprays reds and golds across the water. It may be enough cover. They’re not looking this way.
    Now’s my chance.

    I follow a wave as far as I can, then fold my gills flat along my back and roll to the turtle. I hide myself behind her, and reach up to her neck to comfort her and tell her to stay still.

    I pull up the spikes imbedded in the sand one by one, and lay them with my bracelet on top. As I do, a plan forms. The turtle will need time to make its way to the water. I can do that.

    I coil the rope around my arm, and glance to make sure they’re not looking. I tell the turtle to wait for my signal, and roll back into the water. I swim just past the pier and across the cove from the turtle and splash my tail wildly on the surface.

    The humans run into the surf at the same time as the turtle pulls itself toward the water. Now to get the humans far enough out that I can teach them a lesson…

    I unwind the rope as I splash about. Once the humans pass the breakers, I dive to the bottom and dart to the first, slipping the rope around his leg, tying a knot. I move to the next, making sure not to pull the first, and tie a knot around the second. Then hurry to the last and tie his leg as well. Let them feel what it’s like to be tied up.

    I tie the end to the pier and pull hard on the rope. All three get a dunking.

    The human screams as they reach the surface and pull against each other are music to my ears.

    I catch up to the turtle and ask her to accompany me. How else will I prove that she totally counts as a human thing?

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