Flash Frenzy Round 63

Posted: April 11, 2015 in Flash Frenzy Weekend Flash Challenge
Tags: , , ,

Welcome back, writers. This weekend, Rebekah Postupak from the fabulous Flash! Friday lends her talents as judge.

Before we get started, here’s a brief reminder of the rules.

Deadline: Sunday at 6:00pm MST. You all have 36 hours to create your best work of up to 360 words (exclusive of title) and post it into the comments below. Please include your word count (required) and Twitter handle if applicable. For complete rules, click here. 

The winning author and their story will be featured as Wednesday’s Hump-Day Quickie, receive a winner’s page, and be crowned Flash Master of the Week.

Here is your prompt.

photo courtesy Aswhin Rao

photo courtesy Aswhin Rao

  1. joshbertetta says:

    “The Medusa Effect”
    Josh Bertetta
    359 Words

    Sally tip-toed onto and eased her way, as unassuming as possible, across the playground and stood beneath a birch tree, its leaves in the early stage of falling. Her eyes on the kids playing, running, laughing, she dug out a couple wayward pebbles that found their way into her shoe.

    Two room-moms and her teacher, poised to blow her whistle, stood just ten long paces ahead of her, but none turned their shoulders to look Sally’s way.

    She hadn’t been to school in a few days and each week since school began she’d missed at least a day.

    Sally hadn’t been sick on any of those days, but when she woke the prospect of school was scarier than getting a paddling after she hurled into one of her uncontrollable rages.

    The slide was blue. The leaves were brown and yellow and orange, some hints of red. Jeremy wore a striped shirt and the when the wind blew she could smell rose. Her teacher liked rose perfume.

    One of the room-moms turned—Gregory’s mom. Sally couldn’t remember her name. She smiled at Sally, dressed in the same shirt she’d worn the past five days, weekend included. Her mom cleaned it for her, and she would go around the house topless until her most favorite shirt in the world was washed and dried. Gregory’s mom approached.

    “Don’t you want to go play, Sally?” she asked.

    Sally wanted to nod “yes,” but she shook her head no.

    Last time she played everyone ran away from her. It wasn’t the first time.

    Jonny fell down and scratched his knee. Miranda pointed and laughed at him. A wind blew and shook more leaves from the tree. More red ones than brown and yellow and orange this time.

    “Sally, why don’t you go play? Everyone’s having fun? Don’t you want to have fun?”

    Again, she wanted to nod “yes.” But this time she didn’t move a muscle. Yet her eyes darted from one thing to the next to the next and when Katie, laughing, ran up to her, Sally, her heart exploding, lowered her head and almost started to cry, paralyzed by a fear overwhelming.

    • KM Zafari says:

      This is so sad. Poor girl can’t help her circumstances. 😦

      Until recently, I was a teacher, and one student told me he was essentially homeless for a while and that he used to get made fun of terribly because he couldn’t always wash his clothes. Amazing, the things we take for granted.

  2. Cath Barton says:

    A Passing Smile

    360 words

    I enjoy my work. I take pride in it, and I am delighted when people admire the lines I forge, the likenesses I achieve. To capture a smile for ever is a wondrous thing.

    My studio is in the green copse in the park, the one which passers-by never notice so I can work there unobserved. It is me who does the observing, looking out always for the passage of a smile which shows me the children who will be the best subjects. I play with them, tossing them leaves and little twigs and sometimes, when the wind drops to a breath, a white dove’s feather which floats down, soft as a mother’s kiss on the down of a newborn baby’s skin. That is when their faces open in wonder and smiles brighten their eyes. I take impressions of their expressions then, as all the while their laughter tinkles like tiny bells. They feel nothing beyond the passing tickling. I do not hurt them. I am not one of those who hurt our children. My work is to preserve their childhood.

    When at the last of day the children run, summoned by their mothers’ anxious shouts, I go to my work, to the place where I gather the clay and begin to coax it into life, caressing and smoothing it. To anyone passing on the street the park is quiet but for the cries of the night birds and the rustling of the small creatures who walk by night and sometimes call by to watch me working. I welcome their little inquisitive snuffles, gentle nuzzling and quiet, essential company.

    The work is lengthy. I take further impressions over several days to be sure I have captured the truth of a child’s smile. I must allow the clay to dry completely, for it is most important not to rush. Then comes the firing, in the furnace deep, deep in the ground. There are others who help with this. It is a different skill. We recognise our different skills and we respect one another for them.

    Finally, the work is delivered and then, until the next assignment, I can take my rest.

  3. stephellis2013 says:

    The Sisterhood

    331 Words


    Too late. They knew before they even saw her. The aroma of roasted flesh still hung heavy in the air, a sickening stench that, together with the shame they felt, had driven the onlookers away. The four charred corpses continued to smoulder in the centre of the square, supported only by the stakes to which they had been tied. Guards stood to attention on either side.

    “Don’t go any nearer,” whispered one of the few remaining villagers. “They’ll do the same to anyone who goes near them.”

    Marian and her companions dropped back.

    “She died bravely,” continued the woman. “Looked them straight in the eye until the flames became too much for her. She didn’t scream. None of them did.”

    Marian gazed at the four. “Did no one speak up for them?” she asked.

    “How could they without being accused of witchcraft themselves? We have families to protect.”

    At least the woman had the good grace to drop her eyes. Marian did not blame her. She would have done the same herself. She looked across at the girl’s body. Despite everything, the child had not betrayed her. Yet the Church had killed the wrong sister, had killed one of its true innocents.

    She spat a curse in the direction of the priest who stood staring at the small group. He was getting suspicious but the shadows were already gathering, she could feel them closing in. Even the Church could not protect itself on All Hallow’s Eve. The Sisterhood had been given that one night at least. And she intended to make the most of it.

    “You may cross yourself, priest,” she hissed. “It will do you no good. Your God will not listen; he has already shown that he is not here.”

    Her sister was the proof of that.

    And she cursed Him again, louder this time so that the priest would look up and see her, truly see her and hear the words that would bring darkness, death and revenge.

    • KM Zafari says:

      Such a unique take on the prompt. So sad that she didn’t get there in time. I do love that she gets her revenge, though!

  4. Image Ronin says:

    ‘The Process of Creation’

    A rhizomic refrain to a thousand repeated moments. The white space of the mausoleum, come warehouse, was filled with them, staring back, each a signature cast from her psyche. Now the newest was about to join, becoming part of this rich tapestry to the singularity of Samira’s existence.

    She peeled back the layers of the mold, revealing the burnished steel underneath. This one was as close to perfection as Samira had dared hope for, eyes filled with sorrow, dank hair splayed across a forehead pockmarked by regret.

    Capturing the essence of a moment.

    The fleeting sickness of the memories that had long defined her washed over once again, a fist of fear forming deep in her belly that pulled at the hairs on the nape of her neck. Some, those who had witnessed her more creative episodes, had often commented with critical abandon, as if their voice was the only one she could hear:

    Too much,
    too little,
    too youthful,
    too naive,

    Yet here she was again, fashioning another retreat, an oasis from which she could escape from the world.

    Pain, stabbing, warmth filling every fibre of her being. The mold, peeled away, revealing the butterfly within. Eyes staring back full of hope and joy, luscious hair falling across a face as calm as the ocean.

    Then Samira fell, descending into the bronze oblivion, one that had tempted her with every venture that had come before.


    It was the mother that found her, so said the insignificant article tucked away within the local newspaper. Drawn, as if following breadcrumbs into a darkened forest, lured by a teasingly unanswered mobile phone.

    She was found alone, slumped in some dirty bedsit, the final needle biting deep into clogged veins. The final perfect kiss from her most beloved confidante. Whose caresses had mottled alabaster skin and rotted glistening teeth.

    Police tape had sprung up, accompanied by the habitual pavement shrine as if Samira’s death needed a theatrical bent to give it meaning.

    Now she was gone, consigned to fading memories, her face trapped in the pages of the newspaper that blew down cold empty streets.

    359 words

    • KM Zafari says:

      Such a sad contrast between the beauty of her work and what what her life actually was. “The mold, peeled away, revealing the butterfly within.” Love this line. Did her art represent who she felt she was inside? The last paragraph is especially lovely.

  5. mariemck1 says:

    A Version of Pompeii

    Nature itself could not have us forget
    their stories. For it is calligraphed in ash, their outstretched hands imploring us to read.
    Death, the artist, locks lovers in embrace. 
    The curved lines of mothers’ arms are drawn into immortality as they curl around their young.
    Fathers cast as pugilists pose their questions to us.
    A Lost Sister found in the busy market place, extends her apology across the breech.
    Its acceptance is written in the corners of the older one’s eternal smile.
    Their lucky charms are protected in the  shapes of palms. Perhaps there could have been solace in that hope for their parents huddled with the newborn child.
    Fear frozen on the faces of those who knew, continued to haunt the space vacated by bone.
    And so we attempt to fill in the details, seeing that the solution is offering us a tableau of anguished answers.

    140 words

    • voimaoy says:

      Stunning, Marie. I was thinking of Pompeii, too! You’ve done such a beautiful and haunting story.

    • Foy S. Iver says:

      Agree with Voima. This is gorgeous! (Though i never would have thought of Pompeii.) Wonderful job. 🙂

    • KM Zafari says:

      I wouldn’t have thought of Pompeii, either. But I’ve always found those statues to be haunting. So eerie to see people’s last moments frozen in such a way. I think you’ve captured these feelings well. Subtle but effective. Not overdone. Nice job.

  6. stevenstucko says:

    STILL LIFE (323 words)

    Three turtles plop plop plop off a mossy log. A startled fish turns and leaves a swirl on the surface. Dragonflies ride the tips of bending reeds. A tender morning gently nudges the shoulder of Weatherhead Hollow Pond and the precious new warmth pulls off the mist like a summer blanket. Edward watches the girls. The statues glisten with dew.
    Trees toss calico leaves which twirl as pointy confetti, carpeting the pond and the autumn lawn, blending them as one. Un-named colors beyond any sumptuous words. The gardens have been left to gather tumbling vegetative detritus, their protection from the coming cold. The sun slides lower and swiftly; it has obligations elsewhere. Wool sweaters and blankets are aired out, infused with intoxicating freshness. Wood is chopped. Edward watches the girls. The statues try to catch the leaves.
    Snow seals the pond to the lawn and to the bushes and to the house. Skeleton maples sway in stiff winds and crack their frozen knuckles. Mice, moles, and rabbits scribble nonsensical tracks. Soft undulating drifts hug and squeeze and kiss anything in their path. Blue ice stalactites hang from the garden shed, melting, dripping and refreezing into crooked witch fingers. Edward watches the girls. The statues wear cozy white scarves and fluffy mufflers.
    Countless shades of green. Spring grasses shoot up like sky rockets and explode with tassels of wild wheat and weed. Percolating buds shed their drying shells and unfold leaves so soft and succulent that deer stand on their hind legs to reach the sweet cuisine. The garden is raked clean with crossed fingers and a green thumb. Young eager bulbs and tubers push aside their parents and make a life for themselves above the dirt. Bugs buzz and bother. Birds build. Edward watches the girls. The statues chase butterflies.
    Edward lost his daughters two years ago. They upset a rowboat in the middle of Weatherhead Hollow pond. Edward was not watching.

    • Foy S. Iver says:

      Wow, so many beautiful phrases that caught my breath: “Trees toss calico leaves,” “Un-named colors,” “keleton maples sway in stiff winds and crack their frozen knuckles,” “Young eager bulbs and tubers push aside their parents and make a life for themselves above the dirt.” Beautiful, and so sad.

      • stevenstucko says:

        Thanks Foy! I’ve been saving that frozen knuckle line for over a year. I’m glad I used t here!

    • KM Zafari says:

      Wow – this is utterly beautiful! And so haunting.


    Brian S Creek
    360 words

    There it is again. Two girls giggling outside in the street.

    I peer out from my blue and white stripped cocoon and the alarm clock tells me it’s a little past midnight. I just want to go to sleep.

    I throw off the covers and leave the bed but, before I can pull back the curtains, I hear it again. This time it sounds like it’s coming from inside my flat.

    That can’t be right. I must be hearing things.

    It’s gotta be in my head, of course it is. It’s because I went back to the park today, that’s what’s done it. The first rule is never go back. I don’t even remember why I ended up there. I left the supermarket and must have been daydreaming. Next thing I know, I’m walking past the spot where it happened.

    The papers ran that story for weeks. The bodies of little Abigail and her sister Jennifer found dumped in Coffey Park. It brought the community to its knees. Everybody wept. And then, when their tears dried up they decided to put up statues of the two girls in a pose that would have them playing in that park until the end of time. I thought it was a little tasteless myself.

    So, I saw the statues and now I’m hearing little girls giggling. How crazy? I’m cross with myself. Of all the young lives I’ve ended I’ve never once felt guilt or remorse or anything. I killed these two on the other side of Christmas and have slept peacefully every night since. And what, because I see two pretty little girls immortalised in bronze I can’t get some shut eye? Ridiculous.

    I’ll get some Night Nurse, that’ll do the trick. And maybe tomorrow night I’ll go back to the park and deface those statues and that’ll be the end of it.

    Damn it, I tripped on something. Christ, my toe is killing me. What the hell was that? It’s there, right by the corner of my bed. Something, cold and metallic. It feels like a foot, a little girls foot.

    It moves.

    I hear the giggling again.

    It’s very close.

  8. feclark says:

    My Twin

    Twenty seven marks meander up the inside of her left arm. They start at her wrist, tiny five bar gates, etched there by me.

    My hands shake as I look at the photo, ‘Well loved’ the aide called it. Dog eared and crumpled, it has developed its own topography. In this barren landscape I see my child-self smiling with seeming joy at my twin.

    Smile for the camera, click, captured – a lie. How many smiling images of lies litter our lives? There is no one left to tell my litany of truths to, and even if there were, who would listen?

    Will I make it up to that secret place of her armpit? The calibration of years ascends almost to her elbow now. Hidden scarification, it began as a child’s counting off of the years, continued as woman’s accounting for years survived. I never missed our birthday once, in all these years.

    She is my painting in the closet, rusting, graffiti bourne, alchemising through the years. My Dorian Gray. Whilst I, not a mark on me, one could never tell the secret scars that I bear.

    She is my witness, Emilia, my twin, cast of bronze, greening in the garden of our old family home. Last year I trespassed to see her, crawled under the fence at the end of the gardens. Lingered there a good hour in the bright April sun. Fleeing only when I heard voices, back the way I had come. We are the last of our family line Emilia and I.

    Our family, cast its children in cold hard metal, ran itself ragged down avenues of depravation, up streets of corruption. They were successful, my ancestors, made their name, their money, then their own destruction. Our family got what it deserved and more. We shall be gone soon, never fear.

    I am grounded, shut in, bed bound – tied to the earth by clean sheets and meds, my annual pilgrimage shelved to that library of longing that resides in my soul.

    Still, Emilia and I remain, and a pact is a pact.

    In absentia, I take out my blade, bare my left arm, and cut.

    358 words
    F. E. Clark @feclarkart

    • stevenstucko says:

      “…that library of longing that resides in my soul.” Nice F.E.

    • KM Zafari says:

      I really love these lines:

      “My hands shake as I look at the photo, ‘Well loved’ the aide called it. Dog eared and crumpled, it has developed its own topography.”

      “Smile for the camera, click, captured – a lie. How many smiling images of lies litter our lives?”

  9. voimaoy says:

    The Girls in the Volcano
    225 words

    For generations, the people of the island  lived with the volcano. They were accommodating, having built their towns in the shadow of eruptions. The ash was good for growing things.

    In the old days, it was said a goddess lived in the volcano, demanding and hungry. Every spring, girl children were sent to feed her. They were honored with feasting and flowers.

    The girls would never grow old, never know the sadness of this world. They would live with the goddess in the volcano,  keeping her company. They would live  in a place where the afternoons are endless and they take turns braiding each others’ hair.

    This is the legend, but the experts on volcanoes  say this is not  the way it is. The girls  most certainly died a violent death–suffocation, incineration.  There is no  hot-tempered goddess  who wakes and demands to be fed.  However, there are measurable seismic forces, and there is nothing to do but get out of the way.  This is the way it is, today.

    There is no garden in the lava chamber, they say. There is no circle of dancing girls. The images you see on the robot cameras are patterns you want to see. Those features are not faces.

    Now, the volcano  was waking up again. Inside the caldera, red-hot lava was rising, flowing out to meet the sea.

    • KM Zafari says:

      “The images you see on the robot cameras are patterns you want to see. Those features are not faces.”

      I like the ambiguity this gives us. I was totally like, “Yup. Yup. There are no lava gods.” Then, I saw this line. Now I’m like, “Wait a minute…” lol

  10. Foy S. Iver says:

    Foy S. Iver
    WC: 357

    How The Witch Got Hansel and Gretel The Second Time Around

    “I don’t wanna grow up.”

    Hansel nearly dropped his wiener-schnitzel. He saved it but some of the sauerkraut tumbled out of the bun, forming a milky lake in the dirt.

    “Why do you say that?” he asked, trying to focus on Gretel’s words rather than his loss.

    “Because they’re all rot.”

    Her battle arms crisscrossing her chest clashed with the churro waiting patiently in her fingers. Hansel bought it hoping to sweeten her mood. His plan wouldn’t work if she didn’t eat it, though. Thumbing the last of the wiener-schnitzel into his mouth–the meat to sauerkraut ratio was off–Hansel considered his reply. He couldn’t be too careful when Gretel was stormy–which seemed a lot these days.

    “Papa’s not rot.”

    Wrong response. Gretel’s blue eyes darkened to indigo as clouds black as ravens rolled in.

    “He’s the worst! Letting our step-mother–”

    “God rest her soul.”

    “–convince him to abandon us so she could stuff her face with our food. And what did he have to say when we’d got back?” her nose already quite scrunched, scrunched up like an accordion and her words spat out several octaves lower, “I’m sorry, Darlings. I only wanted what was best for everyone.”

    Carnival music warbled out of the megaphone hanging from the wiener-schnitzel cart, while black, yellow, and red triangles fluttered anxiously overhead.

    “Of course you’d side with him. If it weren’t for me, you’d have been roasted, digested, and shat by now.”

    In all her furious flailing, the churro was dangerously close to being flung.

    “And would you stop resting her soul.”

    She muttered something that ended in “simpleton” and took her first nibble of the dough.

    “Anyway, I’ve a plan.” Its sugar crystals didn’t seem to be softening her. “I’m going back to the witch’s.”

    Now Hansel was listening. His tummy gurgled with pre-indigestion indigestion.

    “What? I thought she died?”

    “Apparently, not. Minor burns only. And I’m going because I’ve heard she has an Everlasting potion that I want.” Gretel crinkled her eyebrows at the churro.

    “Too sweet.” She went to drop it but caught Hansel’s longing gaze.

    “Come with me and it’s yours.”

  11. necwrites says:

    Almost Not Seven
    358 words

    Mom sets a bowl of cinnamon-apple oatmeal on my placemat. A happy face made of dried cranberries smiles up at me.

    “We out of flakes?” I ask.

    Mom’s smile pulls up into her cheeks. “Your birthday’s coming.”

    My heart flutters. It can’t come soon enough.

    “You’re almost eight,” she sighs, settling onto her kitchen stool with her flowery teacup. Her smile wobbles.

    I duck behind my OJ glass and try—impossibly—to banish thoughts of my sister. The way her ponytail makes a curlicue. The way her hand reaches for a lily. The way her bronze face ducks in “sweet modesty”.

    My older sister is a statue on the backyard lawn. Commissioned the year before I was born. She will always be seven because God took her at that perfect age. It doesn’t feel perfect. I can’t wait to stop sharing the year with her.

    “You’re getting so tall,” she says. She hide-dabs her eyes until I want to throw my breakfast on the floor. I stir away the cranberry face and nudge the oatmeal to the sides of the bowl. I gotta get out of here.

    “Natalia, wait.”

    I halt. There’s no sanctuary in my bedroom. Margot leans just outside my window. But at least it gets me away from the leaks of grief.

    “Can you take Daddy’s tea?” She gestures to the counter where his stout mug steeps.

    Holding the hot mug in both hands, I shuffle toward the basement stairs.

    “He’s in the garden.”

    Not in his shop? That’s weird. I turn my steps outside. God blessed the number seven. Eight isn’t special at all, thank goodness.

    Dad is working at the edge of the lawn. I have to pass perfect-age Margot on her pedestal. Despite staring hard into the tea, I catch sight of her out of the corner of my eye.

    “Morning, Birdy.” He hustles to save his morning cuppa from my shaky hands.

    “Whatcha doing, Dad?”

    He takes a sip of scalding tea without a flinch. He’s torn up the grass in a circle. A bag of concrete rests in the grass next to the wheelbarrow. He finally says, “You’re almost eight.”

  12. howdylauren says:

    The Smiler (358 words)

    “Finished, finally!”
    Metal tools clattered against cement, always meant to get hardwood or linoleum or something in there, but never had the funds… Until now. Her hands burned from hours of a sleepless night of labor and cracked from dried clay. She fell to her knees, then onto her back, staring up at the plain white ceiling of her drafty studio. The desolate, barren studio, except for the two statues from her most recent, and year to date only, contract.
    “What on earth are you doing?” Loretta never knocked.
    Petra pushed herself up with her flaming hands, gaining some relief from the cold cement. Maybe this flooring wasn’t so bad after all. “Just finished the project for the park.” Don’t look, don’t look, don’t look.
    She looked. “Oh, you mean these?” Loretta approached one of the statues. The Smiler. Of course. “What kind of children did you base these on? Her face is the shape of a potato! No wonder the museum never called you back. Who wants a JFK who looks like Mr. Potato Head!” First there were giggles, then she melted into uproarious laughter at her own joke.
    “They wanted something fun for the park, they’re supposed to be like children playing.” Children. She should have left it at child.
    “Then why did you make this one?” Loretta turned her attention to the second statue. The Spare. “She doesn’t look happy at all.”
    “Not all children are happy.”
    “Well, I’m sure that’s not the park people want at their playground! Why would people bring their kids to a place with depressing statues?”
    “Let’s leave that for the ‘park people’ to decide, how about that?” Petra turned and gather up her tools that had been strewn across the floor.
    “You’re in an awfully sour mood today. I thought you’d be cheerful for once since you actually got a job. But with that attitude, I’m sure it won’t last,” Loretta gave her iconic snort before leaving.
    Petra waited a few moments, staring down at the hammer in her hand.
    She smashed the hammer against stone, cracking her own grin as pieces of The Smiler clattered against the cement.

    • KM Zafari says:

      This is very sad. Is she destroying her work? Don’t listen to Loretta! She’s mean!

      The Spare. The extra, unhappy one is saved – “spared”, if you will (ba dum bum). The fact that she enjoys destroying The Smiler seems to say a lot about her character.

  13. Effigy

    Preserved forever,

    though not as I would want to be

    They say it’s because of how it weathers,
    the season’s best patinas

    but I hesitate to agree

    Gold, Silver, and Bronze.
    I am a third place girl.

    37 words

    • KM Zafari says:

      Aww. I’m assuming the other statues aren’t made of gold and silver. Why does she feel like third place? Does she have self-esteem issues? Or is nothing good enough for her? Or…? This brings up a lot of questions, which is great. 🙂

  14. zevonesque says:

    Shots in the Dark
    A.J. Walker

    The moon gave the remnants of the empty mountain town an eerie glow as Jeremy trudged one last time along the main street; the broken windows of the old shop fronts looked back at him as empty eyes. At the edge of town he stopped to look into the burned out church. The moonlight shone through the gaping roof onto the charred remains of a cross.

    He opened up the whiskey, the last bottle on earth as far as he knew, and held it up towards the cross. “Doubt there’s anyone listening, but this has not been a blast.”

    Jeremy took a deep slug of the malt and let it fill his senses, needing to dull them.

    A group of dogs howling deep in the forest and he felt for the cold comfort of his rifle. Near the fork in the road he headed into the trees along the overgrown path; unused for so many years it was barely discernible. The river of long grass weaved between the pines then the glade opened up and he was there. Bats circled above him around the edge of the trees flicking their way around their tops; life would go on.

    He needed to be with someone tonight even if they were just cold copies, it had been so long. The two girls and two boys were haloed by the white light of the moon. The bronze children looked happy in their frozen moment and Jeremy went to pat the head of the nearest. “Good to see you again, Jeremy.”

    He walked over to Clarissa his sister who had died twenty years ago, in what was recorded as an accident. That had been when the troubles had deepened. It seemed a lifetime ago.

    Children had been history for decades now; soon so would man.

    The bottle of whiskey was half gone. He’d always been a glass half full guy, but when it’s the last bottle it could only be half empty.

    “If a man blows his head of in the woods and there is no-one there to hear it, does it make a sound?” he said, as he reached for his rifle.

    (360 words)

  15. KM Zafari says:

    343 words

    No one knew who the artist was or where the stone statues had come from; they were simply there when the town’s sleepy residents arose from their beds one brisk morning in the fall.

    They were marvelous moments frozen in time, boys and girls in eternal states of laughter and play.

    Look at this one, with the pigtails. See the fabric of her skirt as she twirls!

    And the dimples on the one with the flower. Aren’t they lovely?

    Oh, this one just lost a tooth!

    The little boy with the pinpointed curls… I think he’s forgotten something.

    And the girl with the jump rope and freckles! See how her nose crinkles with laughter?

    They must have been a gift, they figured, from an anonymous benefactor. And after a while, the townspeople stopped searching for the artist altogether and accepted their new, permanent residents. They even gave them names.

    When the snow came, some dressed the statues in sweaters and scarves. They couldn’t bear to think of the children being cold, they said.

    After the ice thawed, they decorated them with spring flowers and shooed the birds away.

    It was summer when the letters arrived.

    One by one came the anonymous notes, accompanied by a photo or newspaper clipping of a boy or girl, each bearing an uncanny likeness to one of the children that they’d grown to love.

    But it was all wrong.

    Madison was beaten to death by her father after she dropped a dinner plate.
    Mori, a child soldier, was blown apart by a landmine.
    Jorani starved to death.
    Carlito succumbed to Malaria.
    Anjali was kidnapped and sold into the child sex trade. They found her broken body dumped along the side of the road.

    The townspeople were horrified. These are not our children! they cried.

    By the time summer came, they could not bear to even look at them.

    So, they took sledgehammers to the statues, until they were mere crumbles on the ground. Then, the pieces were discarded and the letters burned.

    And by fall, they were forgotten.

  16. treadingwords says:

    Technical problems. I hope you accept it!

    360 words
    by Alicia VanNoy Call

    The shuttle dips, low over a stand of trees, before the city bursts into view.

    “Set her down over there,” Hendricks says.

    The shuttle dips, low over a stand of trees, before the city bursts into view.

    “Set her down over there,” Hendricks says.

    We land in a square — clock tower on one end, playground on the other. Benches and trees with spring leaves shedding a flowery scent over everything.

    I step first onto the paving stones. Holding the scanner up, I survey the landscape. Nothing.

    “It’s clear, sir,” I say, tapping a few buttons.

    Hendricks walks a little ahead of me, turns in a circle.

    “The plague’s been here too.”

    “Yes, captain.”

    “Well, let’s have a look.”

    He walks through the square, weapon holstered. Birds scatter from a puddle as he splashes through it. There is a littering of seed pods and the wind and nothing else.

    I put the scanner away.

    It’s the same here, as it has been in every city we’ve found on this world.

    Figures lounge on the benches. A man pantomimes tossing feed for animals. A mother bends to tie her child’s shoe. Men, women, children. Every one. Frozen in time by an unknown antigen. Every city populated by unmoving figures, dense with an eerie silence.

    I don’t like it. In spite of the decon suits. In spite of the fact that we have found nothing, no sign of any pathogen — the back of my neck still prickles. My hands tremble, the tiniest bit.

    The empty looming cities, filled with lifeless, perfect people.

    We’re plodding down the main street and I’m wishing we could just be done with this ghoulish assignment, when we hear it.

    Another voice.

    We freeze.

    A man comes into view, old, robust, pulling a cart down the street. On the cart, one of the figures, bent oddly.

    We watch as the man wrestles the figure from the cart, clanks it over the curb, sets it on an apartment stoop. It sits, elbows on knees, as if watching passing traffic.

    We watch the man dust the figure’s shoulders with a tattered rag. He stands back, hands on hips.

    “Hello?” calls Hendricks.

    • KM Zafari says:

      “It’s the same here, as it has been in every city we’ve found on this world.”

      You really get a sense of the desolation, here. And I love the description of everyone being frozen in whatever they were doing. That would be such a creepy thing!

      The end feels open. Are you going to expand it?

    • Love the bigger story here.

      It’s starts off as a very straight forward sci-fi tale and i was worried it wouldn’t go anywhere. And then BAM! Another person, unaffected and pushing a cart. Now I want to know more.

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