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.
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.
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:
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.
Clipper approaching, I studied the misty unknown: Silver tide, green sky. Hmmphing heavily, I collapsed on the concrete. Pre-meditating, I shuddered at the cold I’d be wrapped in.
I curse you, Zayle, with your left dimple, common smile, and scruffy cheeks. So tan, they’d be pale now.
In high school we were together in the aquarium club two periods a day. You seduced me with your way with sharks and I flirted with salt water. You’d stand behind me, bright-burning close, guiding my net up, then back down the glass tanks, teaching me to clear algae. Carefully, you whispered the secrets of the coral in my ear.
Bonded by the brine, I followed you like a sea-puppy through college, and then abroad where work drifted. I appreciated the starfish, but mostly I just loved you.
Ironically, I’m left with your career now, enslaved to your ocean. Your name might mean strength of the sea, but mine doesn’t. Mine only meant yours.
Read Arron Ravenel Clay’s story based on the same image here.
This story is not uncommon in the world of advocacy. Nor in the world of anything, where time passes and one works, works, works.
After expending, imparting to love and free others, it seemed their toil was in vain. Those they worked for were not really free. But neither were they- the freedom bringers. The burden they carried was just too immeasurable. And darkness waited, crouching for this hopeless moment. While alone, lifeless, and fading to just a shell from pouring into others, that is when it struck. Because, you see, they don’t always know when their life-saving canteens are empty until they are standing there, isolated in the forest, brokenly gazing at the unyielding sky.
But although the mountain they stand on is grandiose, and the night looms near, they aren’t truly alone. No. They cannot be. Because the wind still howls like a fire, battering and caressing, burning and beseeching.
The following story was based on the following image as a prompt:
Burn to Fly
Violently, I swayed, more than just a little wind-tossed. Conch’s plan didn’t factor in my fear of heights and the potent gales.
But Conchita, with her tight curls and snarky grin, motioned me to climb higher still– each branch closer to flight.
It seemed ages since we’d escaped, which was because neither of us had actually ever left. As a purebred Leeflang Dutchess, I was expected to stay forgotten yet be so committed to the land that I wouldn’t poke my toe out.
But here, hanging high over the river, we were birds. While freedom sung through the roaring wind around us, it also spread our roaring cause.
When we heard of the slave riots we knew it was time. Liberty must be swept in from the future, from what the soon-to-dawn 1900’s must blossom.
And so with the plantation burning behind us, we jumped into the muddy river, leaving only a marble arch to memorialize our flame.