gold and azure flirt on a dazzling mask that hides winter’s yawning maw
Category Archives: Tuesday Tales
Photo from Rufford Foundation
“Welcome to the Babuyan Islands! I knew you’d love it.”
“Love it? I think I just puked up my toenails. Does your grant money cover Dramamine?”
“Funny. As soon as you see the first spout, you’ll forget all about being seasick. Camera ready?”
“Always. How many re-sights did you guys log last year?”
“Fourteen. Our photo IDs prove the humpbacks breeding here are migrating to feeding grounds off the coast of Russia.”
“Does it get old, squinting through those binoculars day after day, on the off chance that in this roiling ocean you might actually spot a fluke?”
In honor of its 99th challenge, Trifecta has mixed things up a bit. Instead of using the third definition of a provided word to construct a story of 33-333 words, participants this week are free to use any definition of any word found on page 99 of the Oxford English Dictionary to tell a tale in 99 words. One lucky winner will win a $99 gift card…provided there are at least 99 participants! If you’d like to play for a chance to win, head on over to Trifecta and link up!
I’d never heard of the Babuyan Islands until this challenge. Turns out they are a small archipelago, part of the some 7,100 islands that make up the Philippines. The islands are beautiful, but largely undiscovered due to their remote location. Getting to the islands is a challenge…the Pacific is particularly rough in that area…unless you are a whale. Humpbacks and at least 12 other cetacean species favor this northern Philippine locale as a breeding ground and/or stop on their migratory journey. The Rufford Foundation website, particularly Jo Marie Acebes’ final report detailing the results of her project funded by an RSG grant, provided the backstory for the above dialogue.
Photo copyright Alastair Forbes
“Nuh uh. You’re lying.”
“No. Seriously. There’s a clown in there,” insisted Gary.
“How would a clown get in there?”
“I don’t know, but I saw him with my own eyes.”
“Oh yeah, what’d he look like?” grunted Toby suspiciously, turning his glare from Gary’s face to cast a wary eye toward the grate.
“He looked like a clown, you idiot! White face, big bulging forehead slashed by coal-black eyebrows. Frizzy red hair sticking out all over. Red nose, red lips. Crazy colorful outfit with a big lace collar. He was holding a balloon.”
“Oooh, I like balloons!” trilled Rosy, suddenly perking up and peeking into the grate from the left.
“I’ve got lots of balloons,” floated a disembodied voice from the darkness. “There’s cotton candy, and rides, and all sorts of surprises in here*,” the voice cajoled, growing louder as it drew nearer to where they stood transfixed.
“I told you there’s a clown in there,” whispered Gary shakily.
Suddenly a death-white face framed by a flame-red halo appeared directly in front of them, causing the trio to jump back in surprise.
“Where ya going? Don’t cha want a balloon?”
Alastair’s photo brought to mind the scariest book I ever read, It by Stephen King. I think it’s the only book that has forever changed the way I walk through the world–literally. I cannot walk over the top of storm grates in parking lots, and will routinely veer six feet out into the street to avoid being within arm’s length of curbside storm sewer openings. I tell myself that’s the power a good writer has over his audience, rather than admitting to my own childish paranoia.
You can check out Alastair’s Photo Fiction, a weekly picture-inspired writing challenge, and the stories submitted by other bloggers here.
*Direct quote from It.
Image courtesy of fromoldbooks.org
Barely able to see through the slits in his mask, Billy struggled to keep up with the others. Big brother Blake was leading tonight’s mission, setting the pace the other three would follow. Begging him to slow down was not an option. Blake had carefully scouted their route and rehearsed the timeline for this operation, and no deviation would be tolerated.
Besides, the older guys had all doubted his ability to see this through, and he’d already had to agree to give up half of his share of the take just to shut them up. Being personally responsible for their failure to collect as much booty as Blake anticipated was not appealing. Beatings would surely ensue. Bountiful rewards were within their reach, he just had to keep up for a little…while…longer.
“Billy, you dumb-ass, watch where you’re going!” Blake hissed from the top of the driveway.
“But…but…I didn’t see it ‘cause-a my mask,” Billy whimpered as blood started to drip from beneath the rubber Scream face.
“Break your nose running into a truck mirror, and Mom is gonna kill me. Boy, I knew bringing you was a stupid idea.”
“But you had to bring me! Boys in high school can’t trick-or-treat without a little brother or sister. Better be nice to me, or I won’t come next year, and you guys won’t get any candy at all.”
Blake smacked the back of Billy’s head as he fished an old napkin out of his coat pocket, hating when the little punk was right. Bending down, Blake wiped the blood off the front of Billy’s costume.
“Buck up, we’ve got two more blocks to go, and you haven’t got us nearly enough chocolate yet.”
Tried to cram two prompts into this one story. First, I took The Daily Post‘s idea of choosing one letter, and starting every sentence of the story with that letter. Then I snuck in the third definition of Trifecta‘s word of the week, “ass.”
This year would be different.
He’d eaten a huge breakfast, an even bigger lunch, and guzzled half a dozen flimsy bottles of water.
He was gonna get rich claiming money from the fraternity brothers who’d bet against him, boisterous guys who were now one pint lighter, chowing down on cookies and juice while they taunted him from the canteen.
As the vivacious young nurse swabbed the crook of his burly arm with iodine, the sounds of the Red Cross volunteers speaking to other donors spiraled into silence as if sucked down a huge drain, until all he could hear was his own pulse thundering through his veins.
Though his vision was quickly dimming, he saw the overhead fluorescent light glint off the sterile needle being brandished by delicate latex-clad fingers, and true to form, the biggest, baddest linebacker on campus hit the floor for the fourth straight year.
A very loose interpretation of Lillie McFerrin‘s Five Sentence Fiction prompt thunder, inspired by my own blood donation yesterday. There was no actual drama at the blood drive, and no college football players were harmed in the creation of this story.
A little while later, she reappeared and plopped dejectedly beside me, propelling the swing into a gentle rhythm before sighing, “It didn’t work, Grandpa.”
“I’m not surprised, Pumpkin.”
“If you knew it wouldn’t work, why didn’t you tell me before I started?”
“If I had, I would have robbed you of the wisdom you gained by trying it yourself.”
While the rest of the house slept, she silently sipped her coffee and eyeballed the bag waiting by the door. Mentally, she inventoried its contents as she crossed the kitchen; she hoped she had not forgotten anything vitally important.
She grabbed the pen and notepad off the fridge and padded barefoot to the old pine table where she hastily scribbled a goodbye note to her family. Normally, she was the one left behind, as one by one as they departed each day for school and work. But today she was the one leaving.
The kids were old enough—they’d be fine on their own. Her husband—well, he had his work and he’d never even notice her absence.
She anchored the note to the table with a box of corn flakes, rinsed her cup in the sink, scratched the cat’s ears one last time. Opening the back door a crack, she drank deeply of the warm late-August air and prayed that this was the right decision, that in finally considering her own needs she was not neglecting those of her loved ones.
She stepped into her shoes, reciting a silent mantra: “You can do this, you deserve this.” Grabbing her bag from the floor and the car keys from the counter, she squared her shoulders and stepped out into the early morning, a sense of freedom and empowerment replacing doubt as she closed the door quietly behind her.
Today, she knew, would be the hardest. New starts were never easy, but surely if she could make it through today, the days ahead would get easier. Just as her children had each survived their first days of elementary then middle then high school, she reassured herself that, as a grown woman, she could survive this, her first day of college.
Today’s flash fiction inspiration comes from Trifecta: Week Eighty-Six, a challenge to use the third definition of the word crack in a piece of 33 to 333 words (mine is 299).
3a : a narrow break : fissure <a crack in the ice>
b : a narrow opening <leave the door open a crack><cracks between floorboards> —used figuratively in phrases like fall through the cracks to describe one that has been improperly or inadvertently ignored or left out <a player who fell through the cracks in the college draft> <children slipping through the cracks of available youth services>
Today’s photo, other than the fact that it IS a crack, has nothing whatsoever to do with the story. I took the picture on my walk yesterday, oblivious to Trifecta’s challenge, because I was frankly stunned that after all the rain we had between April 2012 and April 2013 the fields could possibly be dry enough to crack so deeply. Guess that’s clay soil for you.