This following story was written based on the following image as a prompt:
The stone might be dusting her toes, but Joan can stand on her own through a little dirt.
What I’m concerned about it whether she war away the sticks and stones. Can she fight off heartbreak? A friend’s betrayal? Cruel laughter or an enemy disguised as her boyfriend?
She was always a tender reed, an unlit wick in my arms. I’d wonder how one so thirsty–needy–could be one so strong. She used to giggle adorably when I’d use our lamb skin to hide my face. Even then, with a chubby grasp on the leather, she wasn’t scared when her protector was out of sight.
Pigtails and arrows, swimming holes and swords; braver than I, but I’d hold her to comfort while enveloped in the dark.
Despite the plague, despite the wars, she was her own but she was everyone’s–especially mine.
Then one day, my fragile girl flew away. Joan handle the world, I’m just not sure I can.
“Boop, boopity-bloop,” my nails rattled, clutching the box while I jerked, gripping tightly to control this stone and my hopes in it.
“Don’t you mean ‘Beep, beepity-bleep?’ ” Harold asked, concerned.
“‘Boop’ works just as well as ‘beep.'”
“Are you sure?” Harold’s unibrow rose a smidgen. You could call us brothers–thanks to our rabid family dynamics–so I knew he was nervous.
“It will work,” I assured, my faith living. We couldn’t keep living these monthly nights of terror.
Harold whimpered, “What if the Uncles find out?”
“Shut your chops so I can concentrate!” Relenting, I added, “We’ll bring something home from the butcher’s.”
Harold wrapped his fur-streaked arms around himself, rocking, waiting. I beeped and booped the incantation on the lycanthropy amulet.
Finally we heard the roar, that hopeful promise brewing. A flash banished the dusk while the city heedlessly moved around us. Searching for the russet moon, I tensely reached for Harold’s paws, but instead our smooth, calm palms collided, curse-free.
If I could only remove the blurred dancers, the stabbing in my brain would be soothed.
These dragons sway, a waltz of mirth and color. But they also ring shrilly, shrieking as they bite down, chomping-off the heads of bystanders. The blood rushes, pooling at toes and tingling nerves, crimson cascading from empty sockets.
I rub my temples. If I squint tightly I can almost imagine they’re shinning lights, marking Wintertide and the change of seasons. The screams then morph into carols; the wings, melded from knives into free-spirited tinsel.
I’ve scoured this purse all evening with no avail. Ironically–as if I could have thwarted misery all along–relief surfaces, taunting from the clutter.
Ignoring the whirling, hellish beasts, I inhale from a vial of eucalyptus and peppermint, then pop two capsules of reprieve. This migraine forged of daggers dissipates as I slip on my impish, disappearing, specs.
Relieving in clarity, the ballerinas now move lithe and lovely, their bloodlust quelled.
This short story was originally written for Flash! Friday flash fiction, awarded as follows:
Judge, Sinéad: This story’s title was an excellent, and witty, reference to not only the prompt image but also the ‘many-headed’ narrator, who is dealing with conflicting messages from all corners. I particularly enjoyed the way in which the author recreates the visual and auditory disruption the headache causes, and how well it all wraps into a performance, both the dance of the writhing, clashing dragons and finally the gentle whirl of the ballerinas as everything settles into its proper place. Another tale with an unusual take on the prompt image, and a story which made great use of all the senses.
Judge, Pratibha: One word, execution. From the opening line to the resolution, the tension builds gradually and unwinds skillfully. This unique take on the prompt left me breathless. The image of the dancers as a collective unit, hydra, as seen through the eyes of an aching head, is painted vividly in the second paragraph. Tension mounts in the third paragraph, as the music reaches the crescendo. I loved the description, “the wings, melded from knives into free-spirited tinsel.” Upon finding the cure for his/her headache, the narrator is relieved and so does the dramatic tension, and the dancers now move “lithe and lovely.” The skillful use of language and clear story arc put this story high on my list.
That is how they describe me, warning the little mousies. As if I am criminal and they are the saints.
All I did was fluff their beds, cuddle their baby, and drink leftover milk, gorging on the cookies they had colored with sugar all night long.
But now I see my face on every newspaper and screen. It seems the public has an odd fascination with my infamy.
I didn’t mean to start a thing–I just thought I would leave a present or two (or three). You know, to make them smile when they awoke and found me missing cold. The stockings were for laughs, the tooting train was just an excuse while I lay in wait for the headlights to come back up the drive.
Unfortunately for me, I had to be the best babysitter ever.
With a breathe of their own, the bright symbols beckoned me to solve their riddle. Four depictions, one with four pictures within. Then, the four letters. Lastly, four numbers, although missing the actual number four. My mind spun with varying combination pairs and algorithms, neurons firing.
I caught myself rubbing my hands, relishing the puzzle–yet how had I come alive dismantling such a vile thing?
The expensive suits stood waiting, gauging. The tall bony man picked his teeth with a curling fingernail, eyebrows raised, while the other’s eyes lustily raked me. As the balding letch smirked, Mr. Skeletal snapped his companion’s head back so quickly that none else but Grandfather and I would catch it.
But Grandfather was obviously distracted.
I added the detail to my internal clockwork: The tall man must share our rare DNA (but the letch–not so much). It explained why they had sought us out. Or just me–Grandfather’s chronograph had been unwinding, even if he wasn’t suspended from a hook in the air.
The sucker-punched man rose from crimson-splattered tiles I’d been trying to ignore. I focused inward. The green dials and gauges in my mind spun; I moved the squares like lightning strikes until they fell together so perfectly I wondered why I didn’t solve this riddle instantaneously.
In a blink I dangled from the domed ceiling, my long hair brushing grandfather’s face. I heard him inhale shakily as I typed in the code. I knew my coconut shampoo reminded him of charmed days, when he raised me with Mimi on that secluded beach.
Nostalgic, I felt a heart pin click. No–not now. I couldn’t allow myself to feel, time was too inconvenient to coddle grief.
The device registered the puzzle’s solution, shackles popping. I gently lifted grandfather off the hook protruding through his soft belly, slowly managing him down the crystalline walls.
Although I saw the test-administrators’ bloodied message scrawled on the glass, I didn’t mention it. In a nutshell: I’d passed; they’d kidnap me later. For now I relished grandfather’s broken-edged gears tearing at my skin as he reluctantly wound-down. I cradled him close and he breathed me in until he rested peacefully.
Eyes void and watery, the woman lay frozen on the slab of scorched granite stretching the darkened forest floor. The white coats surrounding her reflected the night sky–blindingly–while they awaited instructions. Taking in the familiar scene, the surgeon commenced with a sharp command that pierced the chilled air like a knife:
It was passed.
The patient’s fever rose.
“Ready?” They gently gripped the pale flesh. Then, with the expert’s grim nod, from clavicle to navel, they cracked the laceration, divorcing the the woman’s body into two equal parts.
It should’ve gaped black, even with the moonlight. But it roared red, yellow–even cerulean! “Quick, the damper!” The surgeon ordered, but the device sucked oxygen hopelessly as the hellfire raged.
“What is it?”
The surgeon stared, transfixed by the flame-entwined spires piercing through the heart’s pyre. She’d lived this inferno of anguish.
“This, my coats, is despair–charring, purifying despair.”
This short story was prompted by the following image:
Never before has the wind whipped like cream and the ocean churned like butter as much as it did this time, in their new device.
I don’t believe in magic; fate either. But electricity–now that’s the hummer. I’d been a big fan of Tesla’s back in the day, yet now we electricians are considered old-fashioned. Biology dug its heels in the terraform, botanists growing tree-hanging flank-steaks and zookeepers corralling hybrids (I’ll never understand why they innovated Dragonflaorillas).
They must have come to me first–no less than eighteen times–because I’m loyal to The Currents. Nothing else could explain their quick-with-thunder appearances. And how else could the foreigners speak without talking into the circuitry of our brains?
Which is why I’ve stood as an “x” marking the spot, waiting the return of the electric geniuses to reveal their lighting, reverberating in glory from the stars. I’ll bridge this gap, assuring the masses they aren’t invaders but mentors. (They might even be gods.)
This short story was prompted by the following image:
Winter came upon them like a rainbow; their minds had been dancing in preparation.
Finally they found themselves in the “Coughing Lair” as they called it, cigar fumes so rich and red.
Taking their seats they wondered, “Why do all these fellows always think they’re the best?” Their fingers alternated pushing pieces and twiddling their facial hair, making it rather crooked. The laughter molted-off them as in silence they smirked.
Perchance they weren’t pitted equally, but it was doubtless who’d win. One move, one stop closer, the previous partner moping onward to the bar. Then they plowed forward and through the next, exchanging glances over the mossy hair.
Finally, at the table they met. “Can’t they tell we’re sick of being nestled in homes, with no right to vote? It’s not as though everyone births babies by the click,” the women guffawed. One loosened her binding and the other slammed her drink back, silent shock reverberating through the men’s lounge.
There wasn’t ever the sweet grass prairie when she dislodged her aviators. Dee always found herself somewhere fantastical: a foreign landscape, some pounding club, or a colonist’s ballroom. She’d sigh, hike-up her stockings, and embrace the plot.
This time wasn’t any different; she stood proud on a mute slab’s edge. Relieved, she wasn’t scared of this cement. An expert judge, Dee already knew here was too idyllic to be another futuristic dystopian.
Instead, her attention was silently screaming at the rope swinging with dead-weight. Not again. Dee hated bringing calamity with her. But she ceased premature blame-casting, for who knew when he’d jumped the brink?
Story commenced; she nudged her toe at the coil, hoping to uncover a clue. No reason to keep her shoes clean, for the scarlet sequin-sparkle had shed-off literally ages ago.
On cue, her aching companion flared–that gut-wrenching longing–for her blasted, world-warped, clicking heels take her to where Em’s apple pie is served with cheddar:
Read E. S. Johnston’s story based on the same image here.
(Note: this following image is the prompt for this story)
He had melted into the bed for an hour by now, surely. Actually, it could have been hours, thirty of them. Those decades had passed in a blink, would he know if the hours had played the same game?
The sun was a hazy ball on the horizon. He felt his gaping chasm acutely, head pounding from the ache where his heart had laid.
To pass time’s lack of essence, he listened to the refrigerator’s tinks. A whole colony of miniatures lived there. With top-hats, tails; frilly dresses and bonnets– holes cut for ears.
He heard the minis scurry up and down the railings, the stairs and the elaborate castles they build in the mound of cooling rejected pastry. They had made exquisite pillars of the champagne bottles.
He considered folding himself into a jerky square, hiding in the frozen room. He imagined delighting in their revelry almost as much as he hated himself in this eternal moment dragging on.