Flash Fiction Friday Story: Chapter 1 from It’s a Question of College

Soccer, Randy Cockrell

Soccer Game by Randy Cockrell

I have a confession, I totally did not get a story done for today. *blushes* By way of apology, I give you the first chapter to It’s a Question of College. Some of you know that I’m writing a YA series called All About Bob. This series is a result of a writing exercise I did over a year ago. It’s still rough, I’ll be editing and rewriting after it’s finished. And if you can think of a better title, I’ll be happy to consider it.

This chapter is over 1600 words, so a little longer than normal. Enjoy.

Chapter 1 It’s a Question of College

Bob ran as fast as he could taking the front porch steps two at a time gasping for breath from the run up the hill where his parent’s run down two-story frame house stood. He’d stopped looking at the neighborhood years ago. Dead grass, mattresses with the stuffing coming out, crappy sofas and armchairs on sagging porches were so normal he didn’t even notice them anymore. He raised the rusty hinged top to the mailbox now only loosely nailed to the wall beside the front door. Shit, he thought as he peered inside. She’s already gotten the mail.

He left the top open when the hinges froze in place and opened the screen door, more holes than screen, to open the front door. The glass was duct-taped along three long cracks radiating from the edges from the last time his father slammed the door in one of his drunken rages. He’d stopped noticing that, too. He closed the door quietly. Maybe his mother was up in her room, sleeping off the afternoon binge. School books tucked under his arm, he stepped softly across the worn carpet to the kitchen.

His mother was in front of the stove, stirring what smelled like spaghetti sauce. He rolled his eyes in his head. Of course today she felt like staying a little sober, he could see the bottle of beer, condensation on the outside of it, sitting on the counter beside the stove. And she’s fixing dinner — of all days. He looked on the kitchen table, there was the mail. Just as he was going to fade back into the living room she turned and saw him.

“Bobbie, didn’t hear ya come in.” She reached for the beer and took a long pull, setting it back on the counter with a burb. “Opps,” she giggled. “Sorry.”

“Uh, yeah. Soccer practice is over.” He took a breath and walked into the kitchen. “You’re makin’ supper.” He did his best to look casual as he went to the table and dropped his books next to the mail. The top envelope was the light bill. He didn’t dare search the pile while she was watching.

“I felt like spaghetti tonight.”

He wasn’t surprised. It was about the only thing she ever made. “Great, Ma. Sounds good.” He went to the fridge and opened the door. Inside was two 18 packs of beer, the kind his father drank, three sticks of butter, half a loaf of bread and two colas. He took a cola and shut the fridge door. “I’ll do my homework while you cook.” He went back to the table, shoved up against the dirty white painted wall, and casually knocked the mail to the floor as he picked up his books. He put the books back on the table and crouched down to pick up the mail, being careful to pick up one at a time so he could skim the return addresses. It wasn’t in the pile. Bob stood and tapped them into a neat stack and put them back on the table.

“Sorry about that.” He got his books and went to his room. The days were getting shorter, he had to turn on the lamp on the rickety desk he’d found three blocks away a couple of years ago with a Free sign on it. The chair was from a yard sale. He traded the owner a yard mowing for it. The books fell on the desk with a thump, causing the whole thing to shake. Bob flopped in the chair a sigh escaping. That was close, he thought as he dug a pen out of his notebook. I thought for sure the report card was supposed to be out today. He did not want his parents to see that card.  He opened his math text and found the page with the homework problems. Math was his hardest subject so he tended to do that homework first.

An hour later he heard his mother shout from the kitchen, “Dinner!”

He had one more problem to do but decided to do it after supper. His stomach was growling. The two hour soccer practice after school burned the peanut butter sandwich he had for lunch away fast. He was halfway through the kitchen when he noticed his father sitting in the end seat at the table. Bob stopped. “Uh, Hi dad. Didn’t hear ya come in.”

“Nose always stuck in a book,” Ted Kowalski snorted. He drained his can of beer and slammed it on the table. “Get me another one, kid.”

Bob got the beer as his mother drained the spaghetti and put it next to his father’s plate. He took the empty and tossed it into the trash. When he was ten he’d learned about recycling in school. That night he’d picked up his father’s empty aluminum can and rinsed it out and set it on the drain board.

“What the hell ya doin’,” his father had screamed at him from the kitchen table.

Bob walked over to his father and explained. He knew his father, a sanitation worker, would understand. Ted reached out and cuffed Bob in the head leaving a red mark across the left side of his face. “Don’t be a smart ass. That recyclin’ is a bunch of shit. Just something to make my life miserable.”

Bob never tried it again, at least in the house. He got a glass of water from the sink and sat down at the other end of the table. His mother, Marcy, sat on the long side of the table, between them. She put the pan of pasta in the middle of the table. No bowl for her. That was one less thing to wash.

After Ted and Marcy dished up their food, Bob put some on his plate. His mother passed him the green can of parmesan cheese. There was only a teaspoon left in the can. Bob sighed to himself. Sighing aloud would only get him a slap. He wound the pasta onto his fork and took the bite. The pasta was overdone and mushy. “Good dinner, ma,” he said as he went for the next forkful. It was food and would fill his belly.

Marcy drank some beer, burped, and said, “Thanks, Bobbie.”

Bob had tuned out his father’s detailed description of his miserable day on the garbage truck, his thoughts were on the report card his mother had. He tried to think of a way to tell them he really wanted to go to college. His soccer coach thought it could be done. Bob didn’t want to work on a garbage truck like his old man. There had to be something better. They were half way through their plates of spaghetti when his mother pulled an envelope out of her sweatpants pocket. “This came in the mail today.” She put it next to Ted’s plate.

Her husband eyed the envelope. “What the hell is it? A bill?”

She grinned at her son. “It’s Bobbie’s report card.”

Bob’s stomach sank. He’d managed to keep them from seeing his report card all last year. Why the hell didn’t she stick to her routine!

His old man put his fork down and picked up the envelope. He pulled the two page computer printout from the envelope. “What the hell is this shit? When I was in school ya got an actual card.”

Marcy giggled, her thin graying dirty blond pony tail swinging behind her head. “It’s all computers now, Ted.”

“Bullshit,” he muttered as he peered at the small print. He flipped the page, read it, then slapped it on the table. “B’s and C’s. I always knew you was stupid.” Ted picked up his beer and drained it. “Get me another one, stupid.”

Bob picked up the empty, dropped it in the trash and got the new one, putting it beside his father’s plate. His stomach was churning the spaghetti as he sat back down. “I’m doing better this year than last.”

He father eyed him across the table. “I don’t remember any report cards from last year.”

Bob kept his face neutral. “No? They weren’t that great. Nothing to remember.” He picked up his fork and twirled spaghetti around with it.

Ted snorted. “I’ll bet.”

Bob choked the rest of his plate of food down. His father wouldn’t tolerate wasted food. Marcy picked up her empty plate and her husband’s. Ted got up and went to the living room after draining his can of beer and getting a fresh one.

“I think you’re doin’ good, Bobbie. Don’t pay him no mind, school was never his favorite.” She rinsed the plates and put them in the sink, grabbed a beer and went to watch TV with her husband.

Bob scraped the rest of what was on his plate into the trash. His father wouldn’t know. He never touched the trash. That was Bob’s job. He rinsed his plate and put it in the sink. Then he dug the left over spaghetti out of the pot and put it in a bowl and covered it with plastic wrap. He rinsed the pot. He left the dishes for his mother. She tried to have him wash them one night a few years ago and Ted exploded. That was women’s work. His son wouldn’t do women’s work. Bob shrugged. He’d prefer to do the dishes. At least then they wouldn’t be sitting there for two or three days.

He picked up  the forgotten report card, tucked it into his shirt and went to his room. His parents had already forgotten about it. Bob would forge their signature and take it to school in the morning.

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Flash Fiction Friday Story: Sixty-Four

Yard River by Randy Cockrell

Yard River by Randy Cockrell

From Chuck Wendig’s challenge, Pick one sentence out of ten. Bonus for using more than one. I used two: “Sixty-Four comes asking for bread.” And “The river stole the gods.” Here’s my offering.

Sixty-Four

“Sixty-Four comes asking for bread.” Cooper nodded at the shambling figure three doors away. He made another pass over the barrel stave he was planing.

Brewer, in Cooper’s shop to pick up an order of three barrels, snorted. “I don’t know why the Magistrate allows border scum to wander freely through town. They’re shifty. And what’s with numbers for names? It ain’t natural.” He glared at the man accepting a donation of an egg in his begging bowl.

“He seems all right to me. There’s a famine on, he’s just trying to keep body and soul together.” Cooper never minded giving Sixty-Four a half loaf of yesterday’s bread. “The gods say it’s better to be kind to the poor.”

Brewer sniffed. “Names are for work, always have been, always will be.” He handed over the silver for the barrels already loaded onto his donkey cart. Just as he picked up the reins, Sixty-Four appeared at the door of the shop.

Sixty-Four bowed. “Blessings upon you, Man.”

The beggar received a glare and Brewer moved on.

“Good Thrassin Day, Sixty-Four.”

“Blessings upon you, Cooper,” he stepped inside the wide doorway and bowed. “You slept well?”

“I did, Sixty-Four, and you?” He put the wood plane he was holding down and reached behind him. He handed the paper wrapped half loaf of bread to the beggar.

“Well enough, oh generous one.” He slipped the bread into an inner pocket of his robe. He made a salaam from forehead to lips to heart and bowed with a flourish. “It’s damp next to the river and I get no younger.”

“I hope it’s better tonight, Sixty-Four. Please, help yourself to water from the rain barrel. It’s better than the river water. I drink from it myself.”

Sixty-Four bowed once more. “May blessings fall on your god Thrassin for whom this day was named.” He went to the barrel and pulled a water bladder from under his robes.

“And what of your gods, Sixty-Four? Do you still worship?” Cooper resumed work on the new barrel stave. Long curls of planed wood wrapped up and over Cooper’s hand as he moved the plane in one long motion along the board.

The air in the bladder bubbled to the surface of the rain barrel. “I do, kind man. He is a powerful god and I pray daily at a little shrine I’ve built at my camp.”

Cooper doubted the god was powerful since Sixty-Four was living in a lean-to at the edge of the river, begging for his daily food but he held his tongue. “A man should pray to his god. I favor our goddess Floria.  I prayed to her hourly when my wife was sick for her to grant healing.” Cooper smiled at the memory. “I was afraid I was going to lose her too soon. That was ten years ago. I leave the goddess an offering every Florisday.”

The beggar lifted the now full bladder from the barrel and capped it. “Well done, then, Cooper. May the goddess protect you and your family.”

He bowed again and left the shop.

The next day found the rains beating down from the heavens and Sixty-Four didn’t come by. He must be trying to find shelter away from the river, Cooper thought. He whispered a quick prayer to Floria for the man’s safe-keeping. The next day word was spread throughout the town that the river was rising. The God’s-keep, the main temple to all of the gods, was under threat of being inundated. The priests demanded tithes and sacrifices from every family. Cooper sent a just finished barrel then went home and prayed at the family alter for salvation to come from their gods.

Sixty-Four came by the shop on day three of the rains. Cooper was digging mud from the street and piling it against his shop door. “Escape, Cooper. Take your family and escape. The river rises.”

Cooper stopped shoveling the mud to clasp both arms of the beggar. “Sixty-Four, you’re all right.”

“I’m fine, Cooper. But you must escape. My god is at war with your gods. You must leave before you perish.”

Rain dripped from the end of Cooper’s nose and chin, eyes wide. “Why would our gods be at war?”

“Your priests have abused my god long enough, Cooper. They are constantly attacking our borders, raiding and sacking our towns, and my god has had enough.”

“How do you know this? Who is your god?

“My god is just God. Though some would call him Justice, and some call him Healer. I was sent to see if any among you were worthy of saving. I have chosen you and others who have been kind. Now I give you warning. Leave this town. Travel to my land.”

He handed Cooper a copper disk, stamped with a symbol of a dove and olive branch. “Show this at the border. Take your tools but hurry. They will know you for a chosen one and let you pass.”

Cooper took the disk, turning it over and over in his hand. “Why?”

“You were always kind and generous, but your country, greedy and suspicious.” He turned to leave.

“Wait!” Cooper’s shovel dropped from his hand. “Who are you?”

The man salaamed to Cooper. “Sixty-Four, head priest for God.” He turned on his heel and hurried off.

Cooper lost sight of him in the rain. He gathered his family, his tools and a few precious belongings and set off for higher ground. He and his family reached the border three weeks later. In line at the gate, he found another family waiting to get across. “What happened in my town?” he asked the man.

“We barely escaped. The river rose halfway up the temple walls until they dissolved like salt.”  The man shook his head. “People and cattle were screaming in the water when the walls fell.” He wiped his eyes. “The river stole the gods.”

 

The End

961 Words

Find more of the Forward Motion Flash Friday Group here: http://www.fmwriters.com/flash.html

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Flash Fiction Friday Post: Mean Girl

Preacher's Cave Mouth by Randy Cockrell

Preacher’s Cave Mouth by Randy Cockrell

I wonder at times if my readers are interested in the writing process? I wrote this as part of a 3 day mini-workshop. This is the final step to the workshop, writing the opening scene to a story. What do you think? Do you want to read more? Is the character engaging? Do you sympathize? Comments are open.

Mean Girl

“Don’t leave me!” sobbed Sonia Lizzaro to Kortni Forsythe but Kortni had already crawled ahead, leaving Sonia in the pitch black cave, bugs crawling all over her and with a broken leg besides. She was on her own. She couldn’t even hear Kortni any longer.

Sonia wiped her teary face on her shoulder. She could feel the mud slide across her face. She sniffed and could smell the decay around her. “Serves me right,” she said out loud. The cave was too quiet. She wanted to hear a voice, even if it was her own. “I should have known better to try and save her. She’s picked on me since we were in grade school, why would she change now?”

Sonia steeled herself to crawl through the mud and muck of the cave floor. It was certain that Kortni wasn’t going to help. Her broken leg hit a rock in the dark, sending pain shooting up her leg to her brain. She groaned but kept moving. Chubby and out of shape, Sonia gasped for breath. The mud and cave were cold but she was sweating.

“I should have let that crazy hike have her. I shuld have run back to the teacher as soon as I got up from where he knocked me down. Nooo. Instead I go after them, watching till he left. She’d do the same for you, I though. Ha, what a joke. Who was I kidding?”

She slithered forward, the cave ceiling just inches over her head. “She was so grateful when I untied her. We cleared the rock fall together. I thought we’d be friends. Yeah, friends. As soon as I showed her the direction out she left me. If only that rock hadn’t fallen on my leg.”

Another wave of pain flooded through her. She stopped and gasped. A wave of fresh air hit her face. “Maybe I’m nearly at the entrance,” she told herself. “Come on, Sonia. Get a move on. It’s freezing in here.” She crawled further, raising her head and forcing her eyes wide to catch any glimmer of light.

She screamed and brushed wildly at her face where a bug was crawling. Sonia sobbed with fear and disgust. “Let me out of here,” she wept. “Please, God, just get me out.” Crawling again she counted every arm pull forward. “You can do it. Keep it up. Go ten more.”

It seemed to take forever but after ten sets of ten she saw a glimmer of light. “Thank you, God.” She moved faster not that she could see the way out.

Finally she stuch her head out of the crevice. She wept with joy at the sun’s warmth on her face. Sonia slid out of the hole onto the rock surrounding the cave mouth and lay on the warm rock. She looked at herself after she caught her breath. She was covered in mud and squashed bugs. Kortni’s scarf, tied around the gash in her leg was filthy. “That’s never gonna come clean,” she said to herself.

Sonia pulled herself up on a rock then stood on her good leg. She looked around for a stick to help her walk. She just wanted to go home and get clean. If she never went outside again it would be too soon. She hobbled from rock to tree, finally finding a stick. When she got back to school she was going to tell everyone how Kortni had left her.

Struggling to stagger along, she didn’t hear the brushes rustling. It wasn’t until a shadow fell across her path that she looked up.

“You again,” the hiker grinned. “You look like crap.” He frowned at her. “You took my girl away from me.”

Sonia’s heart fell. The fear and terror of the cave came boiling out of her. “Leave me alone!” she screamed at him.

He laughed then grabbed her arm. “You’ll have to do.” He pulled her back the way she’d just come.

She began to cry.

 

The End

664 Words

Find more of the Forward Motion Flash Friday Group here: http://www.fmwriters.com/flash.html

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Monday Blog Post: Rainy Weekend in Central AZ

Rainy day, Birdbath, Central Arizona, Connie Cockrell

Rainy day at the Birdbath in Central Arizona by Connie Cockrell

We’ve had four days of rain here in Payson, Arizona. This is very unusual weather. I’ve used it to my advantage though. I made a lasagna Saturday instead of my usual spaghetti and remembered to take pictures of the process for my post on the 25th of this month on Chicklets in the Kitchen blog. I also finished up a 3 day mini-workshop held by Holly Lisle. My flash fiction Friday post is the result. Be sure and check it out on Friday.

Lost Rainbows is moving along as a serial. I’m posting the 3rd installment on 4th here on my blog and the 2nd installment on the 4th on Wattpad.  (www.Wattpad.com).  I’m ConnieCockrell on that site. A new chapter will be released each Wednesday for 16 weeks. Enjoy.  I’ve also managed to create a couple more chapters in my All About Bob story. Poor Bob. I’m being pretty mean to him.

The Payson Book Festival planning is moving right along. You can see the information on www.PaysonBookFestival.org if you’d like. We still have a Kick-off pricing on author tables, half price now through mid-March. Hurry, sign up for a table, you can share a table, too, to make your costs even less. Fill out the Author Registration and get that in to us so we can reserve you a table. They’re going fast at this great price.

I’m still working on the Northern Gila County Fair. (www.NorthernGilaCountyFair.com) We have to do a lot to catch up but we’ll be starting the sponsorship drive soon, decisions are being made about events to be held, the new volunteers are getting into the swing of their responsibilities and we’re getting ourselves organized. The volunteers are very enthusiastic so I think we’ll have a great fair year.

The Book Festival and the Fair are still taking a lot of my time I still need to edit my November story, Mystery at the Fair. I’m working hard on my short story, After Math, so I can re-start submitting it to magazines. I’m keeping pretty busy, hope you are, too.

Thanks for stopping by my blog today.

Lost Rainbows released January 25th! I’m pretty excited about it. You can buy it and my other books at: Apple, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, or Smashwords today!

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Monday Blog Post: Busy January

Bridge, Roosevelt Lake, Dam, Hike

From a hike to Roosevelt Lake. The bridge near the dam from a different POV than most people get.

I’m sitting down to write this blog and all of the things I had thought to write about have flown out of my head. That’s what I get for not jotting them down as I think of them. No matter, there’s so much going on in January, I have plenty to talk about.

First of all, my leprechaun story, Lost Rainbows is proceeding along my editing path. All of the copies are back from my readers and I’m busy looking through the comments and making changes. Next, I’ll send it off to my editors, Silver Jay Media. They are marvelous people and are working very hard to make my work shine. I have contracted out my cover this time. JA Marlow, jamarlow.com, is a wonderful author in her own right and uses her graphic arts background to make great covers. I haven’t seen the first draft yet but she told me it’s almost done. I can’t wait to see it. I’m still hoping to make my self-imposed deadline of the end of January. We’ll see how that goes. It may slip into February.

Also on writing, I just started a new novel. I call it my All About Bob series for New Adults. That’s the 15 – 20 year age group. I thought of this series over a year ago when I was taking a writing class. I developed the first story a little bit and wrote a tiny bit about each of four other stories to go with it. Here’s my series blurb:

This is a series of novelettes about five Bobs, from different towns and circumstances, but they each dream of a different life.

The first story is about one Bob who dreams of college. The second story looks at another Bob, still in high school and desperate to date the cute girl in Social Studies. The third Bob dreams of leaving home for more excitement. Bob number four would love some economic security, self-respect and a way out of the dead end life his parents live. The fifth Bob wants to see the world and the wonders it holds. See how each Bob confronts the obstacles that are denying him his dreams and how each young man forges his own path to adulthood.

I have no idea why I wrote about a young man instead of a young woman. It just seemed the way it should go. Anyway, I’m excited about the first story; It’s a Question of College, and have been writing it fairly steadily. No plans yet on when it will be published.

On the volunteering front, I’m hip deep in planning for the first ever Book Festival in my town. It’s a lot more complicated than you would think. However, we do have a website: www.paysonbookfestival.org and a facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/PaysonBookFestival. The committee is very excited about putting this together.

I’m also on the Northern Gila County Fair board. Our first meeting of the year is coming up at the end of the month. We need volunteers, like any other non-profit organization. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Northern-Gila-County-Fair/136645043024179 and our website there is www.NorthernGilaCountyFair.com

Since it’s January there’s not a lot of gardening going on. My Meyer lemon tree bloomed over Christmas and as I do every year, I took a small watercolor paintbrush and moved pollen from one flower to the next. I have several teeny tiny lemon buds which I hope will grow to fantastic lemons.  My orchid is also sending out a new flower shoot. My daughter gave me the plant a couple of years ago as a Mother’s Day gift. I’m surprised I’ve kept it alive for so long. The dry Arizona air isn’t exactly ideal for a tropical rainforest flower.

Also on the agenda for this week is a hike on Tuesday, and a massage. My daughter gave me a gift certificate and on Thursday I’m going to indulge. It’d be nice if I could give myself a whole spa day but that is not going to happen. There’s too much writing to do for me to skip a day.

Thanks for stopping by my blog today.

The Downtrodden: a Brown Rain Story released November 22nd! I’m pretty excited about it. You can buy it and my other books at: Apple, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, or Smashwords today!

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Flash Fiction Friday: Royal Apples

Gala Apple on Tree by Randy Cockrell

Gala Apple on Tree by Randy Cockrell

The prompt for this story came from a Chuck Wendig challenge. From a list of uncommon apple names, pick three and create a story using those names. I had fun with this and used more than three names.

King Solomon sat on his throne, Reverend Morgan standing on the floor of the throne room in front of him. All of the King’s advisors and courtiers had been sent from the room. He even dismissed the guards. They were alone.

“Tell me again?”

“Yes, Sire. Your son, Crown Prince Rudolph has come to me in private asking me to wed him and one of your maids, Malinda. I put him off, but it seemed to me that the young man was making an error in judgment. I’ve come to you, despite Prince Rudolph’s confidence in me, to let you know.” He spun his hat in his hands around and around the brim as he spoke.

The King drummed his fingers on the arm of the throne. It was just like his son to run off and try to secretly wed one of the servants. He scowled at the Reverend. “I find it disconcerting, sir, that you betray a confidence of one of your flock.”

Reverend Morgan had the grace to look ashamed.

“That being said, I appreciate the information. Have you met the girl?”

“No, Sire. Just the Crown Prince.” The man shuffled his feet and looked at the floor.

King Solomon glared at the far wall. “That will be all, Reverend. Thank you for telling me.”

The Reverend bowed, turned and hurried to the door of the throne room. By the time the echos of the door closing behind the man finished ricocheting around the room, the King decided what to do. “Guard!”

Two guards opened the door to the throne room and stood at attention. One of you find the Prince and bring him to my apartments. The other one, find the servant Malinda. Bring her to me after the Prince arrives in my apartment.”

The guards bowed and hurried off.

An hour later, Crown Prince Rudolph was shown into the King’s apartment. He was at his carved oaken desk in front of a window, reading dispatches.”

“Father,” the Prince bowed in front of the desk. “You sent for me?”

The King put down the dispatch he was reading and stared at his son. “You’re twenty-three this year, son, are you not?”

“Yes, Father.”

“And you think it’s time for you to marry?”

A blush crept up the young man’s face. He straightened his spine. “I do, Father. I take it Reverend Morgan spoke with you?”

The King stacked his papers neatly and set them to the side of the desk. He folded his hands in front of himself. “He did. You are aware that I am negotiating an alliance with the King of Russet for the hand of his daughter for you?”

“I’m aware, Father. But I’ve never met the girl. She could look like a horse and weigh as much.”

They were interrupted by a knock at the door. “Enter,” the King called out.

The guards escorted the servant, Malinda, into the room. The King dismissed them with a wave of his hand. A comely girl, the King thought to himself, as he watched the two young people exchange worried glances. She stood next to the Prince after a curtsy to the King.

“You wish to wed my son?”

She glanced at the Prince and swallowed. “Yes, Sire.”

“I have plans for the Prince. Marrying a servant does the kingdom no favors, girl.”

Her head drooped. “I understand, Sire.”

A teardrop sparkled in the sunlight streaming through the window. He felt sorry for them but he had to think about the kingdom. “Where are you from, girl?”

“From the Kingdom of Apple, Sire. I came here as a child, my parents were killed there.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. I remember an uprising there, oh, ten years ago. The royal family was all killed. The country still hasn’t recovered.” He looked closely at the girl.

“Yes, Sire.”

“The King and his Queen were friends of mine. We held a hunt every year.” He leaned forward. “Let me see your face.”

The Prince nodded for her to comply. She held up her head, tears still in her blue eyes.

The King’s brow furrowed. “Who were your parents?”

Malinda twisted her skirt in her hand and looked as though she wanted to bolt from the room. “My parents here are shop keepers, Sire. They sell dry goods and imported items from other lands.”

He shook his head. “Your birth parents. Who were they?”

Her mouth worked and she twisted the bit of skirt even harder. “I was told never to say, Sire. For my own protection.”

The King pushed away from the desk and walked to the girl taking her face in his hand. He peered into her face. “Tell me.”

He could see her throat work. “King Oliver and Queen Lacy.”

“I knew it,” he shouted and dropped his hand. “You look just like your mother.”

She shrank back as the Prince put his arm around her.

“What is it, Father?”

“I’d heard that the Princess’ body had never been found. I sent spies into the revolution to try and find out what happened but the girl was gone without a trace. The shop keepers, who were they?”

She took the Prince’s hand. “My guard and my nanny. They married when they got here and kept me safe.”

King Solomon clapped his son on the shoulder. “Perfect. I’ve wanted to do something about that revolution for years. This is excellent.”

Two months later, the Crown Prince Rudolph married Princess Malinda. In the spring, he led the army to the Kingdom of Apple to retake the throne. After the war, he and Queen Malinda reigned there happily ever after.

 

The End

936 Words

Find more of the Forward Motion Flash Friday Group here: http://www.fmwriters.com/flash.html

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Chuck Wendig Challenge Part 3: Finish the Story

Into the fiery pits of Hell by The Darkened Light via www.deviantart.com

Into the fiery pits of Hell by The Darkened Light via www.deviantart.com

This is part three of the Chuck Wendig, http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/09/19/flash-fiction-challenge-conclude-the-tale-part-iii/, challenge to write the 1st third of a story then leave it for another writer to finish the next part. This week, we do the end of the story. I chose a story titled Shrine with Part 1 by DarkVirtue1974, http://darkvirtue1974.wordpress.com/2014/09/11/my-return-to-blogging-and-a-flash-fiction-challenge/, and Part 2 by Anthony Armstrong http://almosthuman1blog.wordpress.com/2014/09/12/flash-fiction-challenge-week-2-the-shrine/. The second part of the story turned it paranormal. Let’s see what I can do to end it as well as these two guys started it.

No one has picked up my first half from the first yet. I’ll let it go this week to see if anyone decides to do a middle or an end. But I promise I’ll finish it if no one else does.

I pick up the story at the second dividing line.

Shrine

I don’t know why I have come back to this place.  The old two-story building before me has never been a home in any sense of the word.  It was more of a monument of suffering; a temple of affliction with my father as the high priest.  There isn’t a room in this place that hasn’t been decorated with my blood at one point or another.

Now, he’s gone and this house stands as the last testament to his brutality. So, why am I here?  To find any shred of decency and happiness within and rescue it?  Not likely.  That all died with my mother when I was still an infant.  What, then?  Maybe to get one last look around before I sell it off?  Or maybe, just maybe…to destroy this place.

I push the thoughts of setting the house ablaze aside and make my way up the steps to the porch. My hand grows ice cold with dread as I reach for the doorknob. It turns with a metallic grind and I push the door open.  The smell of age and dust and stale cigarette smoke hits me in the face. My stomach lurches a bit with childhood panic.  My skin prickles in rememberance of each and every cigarette burn mark given to me.

I slowly walk in and look around.  Other than a thin layer of dust, nothing has changed in this place in 15 years.  Every piece of furniture, every picture, every memento is exactly where it was when I was a child. Even the bloodstain on the rug in front of the fireplace is still where I last left it; black with age.  I couldn’t say what I supposedly did or didn’t do to ‘earn’ that particular beating. They all ran together like a flipbook of pain.  Each beating was partnered with the threat of much, much worse if I ever told anyone.

No, I still don’t know why I have come back to this place.  It’s serving as nothing but a bruising reminder of my past.  This place was filled with nothing but rage and fear and, in all the years, I never knew why.

Perhaps it’s best that this place and the past it harbors should be brought to the ground and removed from the world.  Just blow out the pilot lights on the stove and let the place fill with gas.  One spark and this place is consigned to Hell.

My footsteps carry me through the rest of the living room and into the dining room. Like the living room, nothing has changed here.  The familiar setting brings forth the past in my mind once more.  I shove aside the fresh wave of memories and continue to the door that leads to the kitchen.

Pushing it open, I stop short.  Within the center of an otherwise unchanged kitchen is a large, round hole. Cautiously, I approach the edge and look down into the void.
———————————————————————–

The rhythm of ragged breath stutters as the sides of the hole undulate before me.  Heat oozes over the jagged edges and pool around my feet, grasp at my knees.  The kitchen swims around me and I begin to lose my balance.  A hand grips my shoulder, pulls me from the edge.  I am too frightened to turn.  I slide to my knees, hands grasping the edge of the pit.  I almost allow myself to topple forward into the gaping hole, but I pause.  Anger grows inside me and I stand, the hand still pulling at my shoulder, and I allow myself to turn.

“Jacob.”  It was him.  My father, long and thankfully dead, stands before me, hand on my shoulder, smiling in my face as though nothing but love had ever passed between the two of us.  “It’s been a long time, my son.  Too long.”

“Father.”  My tone is curt, cut short intentionally for fear if I allow myself to speak freely, I would unleash years of anguish, terror and pain in a single gasp and our conversation would end.  Despite this man’s horrific actions toward me in the past, I want to hear what he has to say.  I need it.  I crave it.

“I was wondering when you would come back here, Jacob.”  I allow myself to be led to the dining room where my father pulls out a chair for me.  “Please,” he says.  “Sit.”  I, as always, do as I am told.  Now the old man places both his hands upon my shoulders, squeezing, patting as if he were making sure I am real.  He exhales and mumbles something about how good it is to see me here.  The room begins to smell of death and the heat from that hole in the kitchen roils its way into the dining room.  “I suppose you have some things you would like to discuss.  About the past?”

“Yes,” I say forcefully, surprising myself.  “I do.”  I feel the floor rumble.  Hear floor boards crack.  I turn to face the old man, but he turns away too quickly for me to catch his eyes.  It seems his flesh leaves a smear in the air as he steps away from me.

“Your mother and I missed you.  You realize that, don’t you?  She was always so fond of you.  She got so angry when you left.”

My skin begins to flush.  Sweat pops up in beads on the backs of my hands.  Whether it was anger or the rapidly increasing temperature in the room, I couldn’t tell.  “My mother died,” I shake my head, sweat dribbling into my eyes.  “I had to leave.  I had to make your abuse stop.  I had to protect myself.  I had to leave.”  I begin to feel sick.  Father whips around and slams his open palms down on the table before me.  His eyes burn red and his flesh drips from his face.

“What if I told you your mother never died?”

——————–

It felt as though my heart stopped. Sweat ran down the side of my face. “What?”

“You heard me.” He stuck his face into mine, those red eyes locked with me. “You’re just as stupid now as you were then.”

I thought he was going to crack me across the head just like the old days but he turned and stomped away from the table, muttering. “What do you mean she never died?”

“She was always here, Jacob. I made a special place for her, under the kitchen floor.”

His face had somehow crawled back into place. I tried to swallow, to wet my dry mouth enough to spit the words out. “You kept her under the floor? In a room?”

He jammed hands into pants pockets. Those same saggy-assed work pants he always wore. “You could say it was a room.”

I stood so fast the chair fell over behind me with a crash on the worn oriental carpet. I ran to the kitchen. The hole in the floor gaped in front of me, the heat still rising, edges still undulating. “Mom!” I yelled into the hole, God help me I don’t know why. Tears of fear and frustration ran down my cheeks. “MOM!” I screamed.

The heavy hand grabbed my shoulder. I dug deep and flung it away from me. “What did you do, you bastard!” He backed up a step. For the first time in my life my fear was gone. I went after him, hands outstretched for his throat. “Where is she?”

The smug look fell from his face. It occurred to me, in the tiny part of my mind that was still lucid, that I was bigger than he was. I grabbed the front of his shirt and dragged him over to the pit. He danced on the edge, his hands gripping my wrists. “You’ll tell me right now, you sonofabitch.”

A grin spread across the red-eyed demon’s features. “Do it, just do it. You know you want to.” He let go of my hands, balanced precariously on the edge of the hole.

“What did you do?” I spit between gritted teeth.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” His teeth flashed at me, they were pointed. Father spread his arms wide. “Go ahead, do it.”

I let go. Just opened my hands and watched as he slowly fell soundlessly backward into the pit. Heat washed up around me as he fell, the grin never leaving his face. I took a step back. A mix of fear, relief, loss, and grief crashed over me like the waves of the ocean against the shore. I closed my eyes and tried to breathe.

When I opened them, the floor was simple cracked linoleum. The heat and stench was gone. Blinking, I tried to get my emotions under control. I pulled my phone from my pocket and dialed 911. I wasn’t sure how I was going to ask but I needed the floor under the kitchen dug up.

 

The End

491/500/498 Words

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Flash Fiction Friday: Plumbing Issues Part 2

Swarm by Nycterisa via www.deviantart.com

Swarm by Nycterisa via www.deviantart.com

This is part two of the Chuck Wendig challenge to write the 1st half of a story then leave it for another writer to finish. This week, we do the middle of the story. I chose Brandon Scott’s Plumbing Issues. This feels like a horror story to me and that’s not my usual thing but what the heck, let’s see if I can write a middle.
No one has picked up my first half from last week yet. I’ll let it go another week to see if anyone decides to do a middle. But I promise, I’ll finish it if no one else does.
I pick up the story at the dividing line.
Title: Plumbing Issues (Part 1 by Brandon Scott at Coolerbs Reviews. http://coolerbs.com/2014/09/10/flash-fiction-challenge-the-first-half-of-a-story-only/)

Darkness, their home. A thousand bodies pressed up to each other, communicating through nothing but a torrent of clicks. A swarm; chirping and scuttling. Carapaces pressed up to each other, rubbing. The sound was deafening. The smell, even worse.
They ate, constantly. It was all they knew. A screaming fire in each stomach. Everything was food; rot, blood, skin. Everything. Every inch of the surface picked clean. Any other creature, anything that was not an ally, devoured. Cracked open and slurped up. A few brothers had died, they too were eaten.
Every feeler started to twitch at once. A new noise had appeared. Booming, alien. Something was talking, something massive. The ceaseless noise, ceased. All stood at attention, wanting to hear.
“Where is it?”
“I already told you on the phone”
“Well, could you tell me again, please?”
“The bathroom. It’s always the bathroom.”
“I said I’d fix it.”
“That was a year ago.”
“I will, I just haven’t gotten around to it. Okay?”
“Okay.”
“No, I… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean-“
“Just fix it.”
“Look honey, I got a bonus coming up. The vacation can wait, we can-“
“Not now. I don’t want to argue. I just wanna sleep. Could you just handle it, please?”
“Yeah, of course, good night.”
“Night.”
A thumbing noise, more akin to thunder than anything else, sounded across the entire hive. A single twitch of alarm turning into a wave of feelers. The pyramid of bodies began to crumble as individuals tried to move, to escape.
It descended into mayhem, bodies pressed against bodies. Towers made, purely by accident; collapsing just as quickly as they formed. The Queen attempted to calm them. Pheromones screaming for order.
They went unheard.
Their spiny legs found purchase, and raced on the sides. A burst a fresh air gave them a destination. Upwards. A barrier prevented them from passing, and they hungrily tore at it. The porcelain proving itself just another food source. Acid spat, melting it, mandibles scooping it into thousands of wailing mouths. Progress was slow, but they were persisting. More and more climbing up to attack the obstruction. When one grew too full, it would drop down. Its six legs, flailing in the air, being eventually righted by a shift of the mass.
This frantic pace continued for a while, the edge of the barrier weakening. Holes dug, but not yet wide enough to go through.
Then the noise sounded again, and all was still.
“No….no you know what, it’s that mother of her’s. Made one comment about the toilet being dirty….and what does she do? She wants me to replace the whole God-damn thing.”
A noise of metal against plastic, followed by compressed air let free. A large weight dropped down parallel to the entirety of the hive.
Something, large, hit against the surface of the barrier.
The obstruction disappeared and the swarm, now uninhibited, rose forth in-mass. Spilling across the floor; thousands of them. Rushing forward. Manic with hunger.

The random hair, skin cells, a dead spider, found by the leading edge of the swarm disappeared into desperate mandibles leaving nothing for the horde behind. They roiled in the small room until an exit was found. There, they found fibers, soft and giving more traction than the smooth floor of the first room. It was dark but that was what they loved. It was dry, not their favorite but all the fiber made it worthwhile.
Again, spiny legs found purchase on wood, on more fibers touching the floor and leading upward. The swarm followed each link upward, racing each other to eat what was in front of them. Antenna quivered as they tasted the air. Protein, and a lot of it was ahead. They raced, each hungry belly wanting to be the first to find the prize.
Clicking, chirping, scuttling, the swarm raced upward. It grew warmer as they ate their way along the fibers. The lead creatures of the swarm gave off their pheromones, FOOD! They bit into the soft, warm meat.
A noise greater than any they had ever heard vibrated their timpani. They stopped, trying to recover from the noise. They heard a click and light filled the room, brighter than any they had ever been exposed to. They cowered. Again, a high pitched shriek, made the swarm retreat a foot or two, confusion reigned in the swarm. Hunger gnawed, but fear held them back. The fibers they were on moved, hard carapaces flew through the air as the shrieking grew in volume. The protein moved, brothers were trampled and eaten.
The queen, left behind, couldn’t help them. Her pheromones were too far away to help calm and organize. As the shrieking drifted away, the creatures returned to eating the fibers, tiny treats of mites and dead skin cells leading the swarm on. Booming noise gave them pause. They stopped to listen.
“You have to come right now! My whole bedroom is infested.”
“There are millions! Millions and millions! You have to come right now. My wife is going to have a stroke. You have to come.”
“Hurry!”
The noise stopped, the swarm ate. A hissing noise came from one wall where a crack allowed some of the brothers to leave the room. As more and more tried to go in that direction, more and more of their dead bodies filled the crack. They tasted bad but food was food. Soon those who ate the dead were dead also.
Again, the booming noise filled the air.
“What’s taking so long? They’re trying to get out of the bedroom. I’m out of bug killer. Hurry up!”
“Yes, that’s the address.”
The swarm barely paused now at the noise. The room was hot and dry. The food was dry. The swarm fed but the environment was hostile. They began to miss the wet, dark place they came from. Some of the brothers stood still, the lack of the queen’s direction rendering them useless.

The End
496/495 Words
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Challenge: First Half of a Story

This week’s Chuck Wendig challenge http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/09/05/flash-fiction-challenge-the-first-half-of-a-story-only/ is to write the first 500 words of a 1000 word story and post it on our page. Hopefully someone else will read the 1st half, be prompted and write the 2nd half of the story. So this week, I’ll post my 1st half and see if anyone gets an idea of how to finish it. I called it Mystery at the Fair.

I read some of the posts from people who had already answered the challenge and found one that someone else created and finished it for him. You can see it below my story start. I’m calling it Close Call.

If no one picks up on my story, I’ll finish it for next week. If someone does finish it, I’ll post it here with a link to their blog.

Mystery at the Fair

Sweat rolled down the side of Jean Hays’ face, her short graying brown hair stuck to her forehead. The sun beat down out of a cornflower blue sky while end of the monsoon season thunderheads built up into towering blinding white and ominous portents of future rain. Rain every year for the fair, she thought as she trudged to the storage container where the plastic tubs of left over ribbons, banners and other fair paraphernalia resided the rest of the year. She wiped her face and hoped the units were unlocked. The Fair Board President, Arris Van Horn wasn’t answering his phone. He should have them open by now.

She wiped the sweat from her face and lightly touched the metal handles of the shipping container. The front of the unit had been in the sun all day but while it was hot to the touch, she could grab the lever and pull it up. Must be ninety degrees out here. She swung the door open with relief that she wouldn’t have to trudge all over the fairgrounds looking for Arris and stepped inside. It was dark just a few feet inside the metal box and at least a hundred and twenty degrees. Sweat began dripping in earnest. Smells like mice in here, hope they haven’t gotten into the tubs, she thought.

Winding her way past safety cones, stacked tables, buckets of rope, steel cable and broken metal chairs, she stepped over a pile of rebar to reach her stack of tubs. One, two, three, four, she counted, where’s the fifth tub? The heat was giving her a headache. Maybe it’s farther to the back. A pile of cardboard boxes labeled, Mud Run, blocked her way. The storage container held material for several events that occurred on the fairgrounds during the year. Jean moved the three boxes behind her and stepped over a pile of rusting chain. Wish I’d brought a flashlight, she thought. It’s dark back here.

Squinting, she saw the medium blue tub four feet away on top of another stack of bins. There you are. She wiped her face again and held her breath. The smell of dead things was over whelming. I hope nothing crawled into my bin. The ribbons will be ruined. She picked her way past boxes, rusting metal things she couldn’t identify and a broken ladder. She pulled the tilted bin toward her and the pile of bins it was on fell over. Her bin slid to the floor, taking part of her thumbnail with it. “Owww,” she cried as she jerked her hand away. In front of her, the two doors of a metal cabinet creaked open and a desiccated human body fell out on top of her bin. She shrieked and scrambled outside.

She stared, panting, at the open door of the container then dialed 911. “This is Jean Hays. I’m the VP of Exhibits for the fair. I just found a dead body in the storage container on the fairgrounds.”

The End

500 Words

 

Close Call

(Note: 1st half of the story is separated from my final half by a line.)

First half is by Caitlin McColl, Under A Star Lit Sky, http://underastarlitsky.wordpress.com/2014/09/08/the-first-500/ No Title: Part of Chuck Wendig 500 Word Story Start Challenge

Do you know what it feels like when you are about to die? Everything slows down and then stops. All the life, all the colours drain out of everything. It’s like you’re trying to conserve every last bit of energy into just keeping yourself alive, to keep your heart pumping and your mind thinking. You go into survival mode: sounds disappear until all you hear is your heart and your breath as loud as a hurricane in your ears.

Trust me, I know. I’ve been almost dead more times than I have fingers and toes.  And I don’t recommend it. It’s not as if I try to get into situations that get me almost dead, it’s just… I guess you could say it’s my hobb-.

I hear a familiar click right next to my left ear; the small sound that has such a huge meaning – the sound of a gun’s safety being pulled back. Slowly, calmly, I put down my pen. Without turning my head, I begin to stand from the Adirondack chair where I’d been enjoying a rare peaceful morning on my deck devoid of any life – I do not have a green thumb – above the Pacific.

“Don’t move,” the voice says quiet but firm. At first I’m surprised. It’s not any voice I was expecting, going through my mental Rolodex of the long list of people who want me dead.

I try not to sound like I’m on the verge of a laugh. I swallow once, hoping to quash the offending sound, and try to sound serious and even as I stop in a squat, half sitting, half standing.

“What do you want me to do?” I ask, plainly, removing all traces of amusement from my voice.

The voice behind me makes an exasperated noise. “Okay, you can move, but only do what I say.”

I try to suppress a smile, grateful my face is turned away from my captor. She sounds unsure, nervous. I don’t recognize her voice – I’m usually good with recognizing who it is that wants to hurt me.

“Okay,” I say agreeably. “Can I at least stand up?”

There is a pause. I can almost sense eyes being rolled. “Yes.”

I straighten slowly. “Now what?”

Another pause, longer this time. “Take us to the library.”

Us? A shiver races down my spine. I mentally shake my head. I hadn’t been on alert. I’d been too busy writing.

“The library?” I repeat, confused.

Your library,” the woman says, irritation and impatience tingeing her words.

“Why?”

“That’s not important. All you need to know is you have a gun to your head.”

I laugh, short and sharp. “That’s nothing new to me.”

I hear the another small click that causes the hair on my arms to rise involuntarily and I raise my hands defensively. “Okay, okay,” I say, leading the way into the kitchen and down the hall.

The double doors to the library already stand open. I stop and gesture inside. “Ladies first.”

________

“Don’t be stupid,” she snarled.

I shrugged and stepped through the door to the middle of the room.

“Turn around.”

Hands still in the air, I did. She was about five foot six, green-eyed and I didn’t recognize her. I certainly would have remembered that shoulder-length auburn hair and creamy complexion. “I’m afraid we haven’t been properly introduced. I’m Al Teiness.” I started to lower my hands.

“Keep them in the air.” She waved the revolver at me.

“Of course.” I raised them again.

“I know who you are. You’re the one that killed my sister.”

I’ve been known to tie one on but I don’t remember ever blacking out. Certainly don’t remember killing anyone. “You must have me confused with someone else.”

“Two years ago,” she spat out, tears forming in those lovely green eyes. “At the MyCon for mystery writers, in Phoenix. She was so excited, finally getting to meet her favorite author.” She studied my face. “You don’t remember, do you?” She pointed the gun at me in sharp jabs. “Unbelievable.”

“Miss, really, I didn’t kill your sister. I’m so sorry for your loss. What was her name?” I had to convince this woman not to kill me.

She dashed away the tears in her eyes. “Amanda, my height, blonde, blue-eyes. She had met you at the book-signing and you invited her for drinks afterward. She texted me. You were going to meet at the hotel bar.”

I thought furiously. So many people come to the book-signing sessions. I was sick that day, head-ache and fever but the fans come a long way and spend a lot of money so I sat through the whole signing session, smiling and greeting my readers. “Miss, I invite a lot of my fans for drinks at the bar. Usually I go and spend some time with them but I was sick that day. I didn’t go to the bar; I was in my room, puking my guts out with the flu.”

The gun wavered as she stared at me. Her face twisted in anger. “You’re a liar. You’re just trying to get away with it.”

“No, Miss,” I stepped toward her to explain.

She took two steps back, “Stop!”

I stuck my hands back in the air. “I had to call the hotel to send a doctor. I’m not sure how you’d check that but it’s the truth. I missed the rest of the conference.” I could see the look of doubt cross her face. She swallowed.

“It’s taken me two years to track you down. You didn’t go to the bar?”

I shook my head.

The gun wavered. “You were really sick?”

I nodded.

The gun sank toward the floor. “I’m so sorry.” She whirled around and fled out through the kitchen to the deck and was gone.

I dropped my hands and staggered to the ottoman where I collapsed, heart pounding. I resolved never to invite fans for drinks again.

The End

991 Words

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Flash Fiction Friday: The Farmer and the Superhero

So Let the Flames Begin by tearsintotime via www.deviantart.com

So Let the Flames Begin by tearsintotime via www.deviantart.com

Art looked around the barn. There wasn’t much here to fight with. The outlaws were closing in and they had revolvers and shotguns. Thank the heavens, Wanda and the kids were at her parent’s ranch, twenty miles away. That’s something, he thought as the back and front barn doors were kicked open at the same time.
“We know you have a cash box hidden in here, Sodbuster.” The leader of the gang called out from his horse in the barn door. The rest of the gang were on foot, nearing the center of the barn floor. Art was in the hay loft, pitchfork in hand.
They’d come riding in hard, dust blowing across the valley in the hot spring afternoon. Sure he had cash. He was saving it to buy seed and plant once the monsoons began.
The outlaws gathered at the base of the ladder leading to the loft. “Come on down. Don’t make us come up there,” a big brute with a scar across his left cheek yelled out.
Art considered throwing the pitchfork like a spear. He’d get at least one that way.
“Jimmy,” Scarface said to one of the men next to him. “Go up there and throw that sodbuster down.”
“You snoozer, I ain’t goin’ up there. He’ll kill me.” Jimmy backed up a step.
Scarface reached out a long arm, grabbed the young man by the scruff of his neck and shoved him to the ladder. He pointed his revolver at the boy. “Get up there or I’ll shoot you myself.”
Jimmy was none too happy but he began to climb the ladder. Scarface called up to the loft. “You come down nice and quiet. We won’t hurt ya.”
“You already burned down my house. You’ll kill me all right.”
Scarface waved his gun at Jimmy to get a move on. The boss, leaning on the pommel of his saddle snorted. “Sodbuster, we just want the money. Toss it down.”

Art could hear Jimmy nearing the top of the ladder. “I think not.”

The boss said, “We’ll burn the barn with you in it.”
“Then you won’t get the money, will ya?”
Jimmy stepped up to the loft. He had his revolver in hand, scanning the heaps of hay in the loft. “Come out, Mister. Give me the cash box and we’ll be on our way.”
Art flung the pitchfork at the boy. Jimmy dodged the fork but stumbled and fell off the loft. He screamed after he hit the dirt barn floor. “My leg! My leg is broke!” Art’s stomach rolled. He’d never hurt anyone in his life.
Over Jimmy’s screams, the boss yelled, “Shut the kid up. Get him on his horse. Mister, you made a mistake. Scarface, burn the barn.”
Art could hear the sound of the boss leaving. Through the open loft door he could see the gang forcing Jimmy onto his horse. The men rode away from the barn, Scarface’s horse with them. Below, he could hear Scarface lighting match after match, the sulfur smell rising in the air to his hiding place. He could see the boss send two of his men to the other side of the barn. There would be no getting out that way.
The smell of smoke filled the air and he could hear crackling. The chickens began to squawk and run from the building. He pulled the cash box out of the rafters and tucked it under his arm. Was there anywhere to put it so Wanda could recover it? A peek over the edge of the loft showed the flames licking the wooden support posts. At least the cow and her calf were in the field. Wanda would have that much.
The heat began to rise, sweat formed on his face. He grabbed a sack of corn, stuffed the box inside and put the sack in between two others. Maybe the corn wouldn’t burn. He peeked out of the loft door. The outlaws were having a smoke, waiting. Art wiped his forehead with his sleeve. If he jumped he’d be defenseless, the pitchfork was on the barn floor.
The flames crept up the support poles. Art paced back and forth between loft doors, desperate to think of some way out. He coughed from the smoke. When the flames licked at the front edge of the loft, he thought it was the end. Tears of anger, frustration and the smoke streaked down his face. He whispered a good-bye to his wife and children.

Kneeling in the center of the floor, he prepared to die when something crashed through the roof of the barn. Art’s arms went up to shield himself from falling shingles and splintered wood.
A man, dressed in sky blue with a red cape settled to the loft floor. He held out his hand. “I’m The Guardian, let’s get you out of here,” he said. Art took the man’s hand. He scooped Art up under his arms and flew through the hole he just made. The outlaws pointed and shouted. The man put Art down in the pasture next to the cow and flew back to the outlaws. They fired their guns at the man who swooped low over them, spooking their horses. The horses ran in every direction but the man followed, one by one, bringing each outlaw back and tying them up in the middle of the barn yard.
After the last outlaw was caught, The Guardian came back to the pasture. “I’m sorry about the barn,” he said. The barn was in full flame behind him. “But the bounty on those outlaws should be enough to pay for a new house and barn.”
With that, the man rose into the air until Art lost sight of him in the sun. Art walked the outlaws into town keeping them in line with their own dropped revolvers. The Sheriff looked confused at the outlaw’s tales. When he asked Art how he captured them all, he said, “I just surprised them.”
The End
1000 Words
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