Another Short Story Contest Entry


On a routine fishing trip with her husband, a woman is pulled by an octopus into the North Sea. She fights to free herself from the beast; he fights to free her from the sea.

Thank gods I remembered to breathe. This was her thought as her yellow strands of hair danced about her head in the bubbly darkness. It was surprise that pulled her off the boat, let her get this far beneath the surface. The morning storm made it murky above, but still enough light penetrated. She was able to orient herself, and she pushed herself toward that light. Suckered tentacles drew themselves tight around her. They clutched at her arms, adding resistance to her upward strokes. Still, she managed to break the surface, gasping in the salty, misty air above. The beast released a jet of water that rushed over her chest, past her neck, and she was under again. What it lacked in brute force, she thought, it made up for in determination.

He had trouble relighting the lamp. The oil sloshed with every wave, extinguishing the wick before the flame had a chance to take hold. After several tries, and several precious minutes lost, the fire filled the glass globe fully. He slid a mirrored backstop into the lamp to focus its light. He strained to see into the impenetrable water. They had set out early as usual, before dawn, in relative calm. But as the sun had begun to rise, a storm brewed, diminishing the daylight. With the darkness, there was wind. It was impossible to discern how far off course the gusts had blown them. He couldn’t be sure of exactly where he had lost his wife. One moment she was leaning at the bow, like a hero crossing an icy river, and the next moment he was alone with a few empty lobster traps at his feet.

She remained near the surface, able to take quick, chaotic gasps. She could not loose herself of her captor, however, and she wondered if her wild flailing would be seen by her husband. In the brief moments her head was above water, she sought out their small boat in the surrounding water, but could see nothing. They were not boat people naturally. That is to say, they weren’t born into this life. Sent to live in the remote village by His Majesty, they sought sustenance from the sea by sheer necessity. There was no farming on the rocky shores, and no market as no one wanted to live near a prison. After this many years, they had learned their way— a symbiotic, nautical extension of their terrestrial marriage.

The mist turned into rain, biting cold pellets blown onto his face. They collected in his beard and his eyebrows, and as the temperature continued to drop they threatened to freeze. He did not break away from his search of the roiling surface about him. He had fixed the lamp in place with rope which freed his arms to push the boat around with an oar. It was not without great effort that he kept his position in what he believed was the spot his wife was pulled in. In his head, he heard her scream again and again the beast’s name, and saw her fall, unnaturally slow, into the blackness. Had he seen the tentacle on her leg? Had he thought there was no need to warn her, that she would somehow feel the arm creeping toward her bent knee through waxed canvas and several layers of flannel?

She counted to ten, took a deep breath and pulled her arms to her sides. The leather ties that held her dagger in place were waterlogged and seemed glued together. Her cold fingers felt doubled in size. She was sinking, and just as panic was setting in, she felt the wooden hilt in the palm of her hand. With each upward beat of her arms, the grip of the tentacles grew tighter. She thrashed with her dagger at its gelatinous mantle, every breath drawing in just as much sea water as air as she bobbed violently in the swells.

In the distance, his eye caught a glint of gold in the foamy surge. Too far away, he thought. The storm had pushed him more forcefully than he had gauged. But the glint was enough to empower him, fill him with the rage necessary. It was the same rage of survivalism he felt when the inmates had risen up against him and his gaolers. The same instinct that allowed him to fight off their make-shift weapons provided him now with the strength to propel his boat against the wind, against the angry waves. He would make it to her, he would get her back from the sea and its beasts.

She slashed at the tentacles with ferocity. They loosened and fell away, but she kept fighting. Beneath her canvas gear the flannel she wore for warmth was soaked with seawater and sweat. The weight worked against her efforts to remain afloat. She would be deplete of energy soon, a thought she pushed out of her mind along with a creeping panic. Tiny stars of yellow light appeared before her. A calm dulled the edges of her freneticism. In another moment, a gaff hook would catch under her arm and pull her back into the boat.

He gripped her tighter than any sea creature could ever hope to, his frantic anger washed away by ecstatic relief. She returned her husband’s embrace for a long moment before surrendering to her exhaustion.

SIFF 2011 Day 04: Everett or Bust!

Monday, a holiday, found me taking mass transit to a whole different county for film festival screenings. I would have loved to take the Sounder train, but alas it does not run on holidays, and instead took a bus. It is actually a coach, and it only took 45 minutes from downtown Seattle. (I may one day write about my experience getting to downtown Seattle that morning, as that was an adventure all to itself.)
The first film (of three) was A Cat in Paris (Une vie de chat). The biggest disappointment of this film is that it was not in French. They’re in Paris, no? However, it seems that it is deemed a children’s film, and obviously children cannot read subtitles. The English dubbing wouldn’t be so bad if they hadn’t used such ridiculous accents. Each character was from somewhere else. I heard a few American accents, German, English, possibly Russian, etc. Why couldn’t they speak English with French accents? The animation is nice – no Pixar smoothness here. I dig the fluidity of the cat burglar’s movements as he makes impossible leaps and dodges in the night. There’s a nifty scene in the dark, rendered as white on black line drawings. The story resolved itself a bit too quickly for my taste, and some of the dialogue felt a wee bit contrived (perhaps the fault of the English translation). I really think you should see this in French, but if you just can’t wait (or don’t care) A Cat in Paris is playing again in Kirkland on 5 June and at the Egyptian on 11 June.
The second film was Page One: Inside the New York Times. Documentarian Andrew Rossi filmed a year inside the offices of the Times and gave us a glimpse of life on a newspaper. Interspersed between snippets of men at work (and it was mostly men) are interviews of members of other media outlets with their take on the State of Things at the paper and in media in general. It showed some interesting perspectives from inside the industry and gives the audience some things to chew on, should they choose to do so. In fact, one aspect of the commentary is that the American audience really doesn’t want to chew on things anymore. I hope this film can get people to stop and think about the future of journalism and what our relationship as a society will be, and what we want it to be. A lot of times we, collectively, don’t consider the ramifications of our actions or inaction, and then lament later the loss of things we had the power to retain. Times reporter Brian Stelter was on hand for a healthy Q&A following the screening. Page One is scheduled to be released in late June.
The third film was Simple Simon (I Rymden Finns Inga Känslor) from Sweden, a tale of a young man with Asperger’s syndrome figuring out love in the process of finding a new girlfriend for his brother. The Swedish title I believe means “in space there are no feelings” or something to that effect. It is a sentiment the title character expresses in the film, which is why he can often be found in a metal drum which he pretends is a spacecraft orbiting Earth. He doesn’t like change, so when his brother’s girlfriend leaves, he needs to find a new one to maintain the status quo. This proves to be quite awkward for all involved, with sometimes hilarious results. I actually chuckled out loud a couple times, this movie was that funny (I maintain virtual silence during almost all films in theatres). Simple Simon plays again at SIFF Cinema on 1 June.

Flash Fiction Challenge 2011: Allocution

Sitting on the edge of the bed, Gregory emptied his mind of all thoughts. With a hand on each knee, he concentrated only on his breathing, a steady flow of air in and out. The walls of the room fell away from him and the bed melted into nothing. Images and sounds and emotions tried to reach him, but he fought them off until he was alone in the vacuum. He remained suspended in this nothingness, devoid of any feeling that might interfere with the task ahead. Gradually the noise of the TV crept from the living room, down the hall, and into Gregory’s ears. The sound brought with it other sensations and he felt the room around him and his weight again on the bed. Without moving his body, he reached with his right hand to the revolver lying beside him. He slid his hand beneath the metal and gripped the gun.
Gregory stood, and without making a sound, took the solemn walk toward the living room, the noise of the TV, and his father.


There is the chaos. There is light and noise. There is a current running through the air the color of sunshine. There are jovial voices bouncing off the cinder blocks. Then there is quiet. There is stillness and grey light. There is one man with no voice, staring into the void. If we get close we can feel the mild heat of anxiety emanating from his body and we can feel the slow rise and fall of his chest as he waits for his turn.
Today is a day he should be looking forward to. A day of extended visitation. A day for men like him to have their children surround them, pretending to be a family for a few hours.
For him, today is filled with sweet anticipation as well as a bitter loathing. Soon, he will be called from his cell along with several other men on this wing. They will be escorted to the yard, specially decorated for the occasion in balloons and streamers of blue and green.
Each man will be assigned a table where his family will already be seated, neatly combed hair, freshly washed shirts, all to make a good impression on Dad. The reunions will be bittersweet, some more than others. There will be happy faces tinged with sadness, some the other way around. There will be laughter, there will be yelling. But for that short time they will be together, a family again, though briefly.
The man lying still in his dingy cell is not thinking about any of that. To be fair, he began the day with visions of his young son upon his knee, cherubic face tilted up toward his, beaming. That pride triggered his guilt and then he was in another place, in another time, reliving the moments which brought him here.


Gregory was at the park, pushing his son in a swing, relishing the gurgling laughter coming from the toddler. His cell phone rang and he reached for it with one hand while continuing his gentle pushes on the boy’s back. It was his mother on the other end, explaining the diagnosis just given to his father. He’s got emphysema, she told him, and a visit from his son would lift his spirits. “Gregory, be a good boy and come see your father.”
He made arrangements with work and said good-bye to his son. “Your daddy has to go visit his own daddy. But I’ll be back soon.”
Although it was Gregory’s house for sixteen years, it felt like a stranger’s. His father sat in front of his TV, a small oxygen tank on his left and a small table to his right. The table held an empty beer can as well as a full one, and next to them was an unused ashtray, still occupied by a few smashed cigarette butts.
His mother flitted about, taking his coat, offering to make him a snack, asking a series of rhetorical questions about his life since leaving home. Through the din, Gregory’s father bellowed at his wife to pick up his empty beer can, which she did. As she reached for it, he grabbed hold of her wrist and pulled her close. With noticeable effort he chided his wife for making such a fuss over their son. She was quiet for a moment as she avoided his glare and waited for him to release his grasp. As Gregory watched this confrontation, the heaviness in his gut told him he was home.
Over the next few days, the family fell into a routine. The father would call out a demand. The mother would comply. The son would ask his father not to bully his mother while offering to help his mother with her task. Neither parent would hear their son’s words. At breakfast, Gregory would notice a new bruise on his mother’s arm or on her cheek, but any query would be answered with more pancakes or fresh coffee.
It was if he were sixteen again. And now he was given a second chance to act. He had been able to escape, but his mother had not, and would not. She had been pounded on and badgered for as long as he could remember. Even crippled by his emphysema, his father did not let up on his mother. She would only be free once his father was gone.
After a week, Gregory needed a break from his parents. He walked out the front door, and after the slam, heard silence for the first time since his arrival. He shoved his hands in his pockets and walked, head down, to nowhere in particular. The neighborhood had not changed much since he had left home. The kids still congregated at the drive-in burger joint. The old men still sat outside the smoke shop. Gregory walked on, hoping he wouldn’t be recognized, and soon found himself across from a gun shop. He stopped, and his heart raced. Without thinking, he crossed the street and walked into the store.
Gregory’s knowledge of guns did not extend past whatever he had seen on TV or in movies. The man behind the counter grunted a greeting but otherwise let Gregory be. He scanned the glass case, not really seeing what was inside. The words “six gun” made their way into his thoughts, and so that was what he purchased. The man behind the counter sold him a box of bullets as well, though Gregory knew he would only need what would fit in the cylinder. He stashed his new purchases into his jacket pockets and stepped back out into the street.
Gregory took a different, longer route back to his parents’ house. His mind raced along with his heart. Images rushed through his mind – his father’s dark fingers tight around his mother’s pale flesh, her eyes brimming with tears as she stifled her cries. He heard his father’s gruff voice shouting obscenities at them both, calling Gregory stupid, and his mother worse, in as many colorful words he could come up with. His ears grew hot with anger and started to ring. His palms were sweaty and his breathing too fast.
The sun was well below the horizon when Gregory eventually returned to the front porch of his parents’ house. He opened the door and the sound of the TV spilled out toward him, and he became calm. He entered and got to his bedroom without being noticed by either of them. He shut the door quietly and sighed long and heavy. He reached into his jacket and pulled out the revolver. He loaded the cylinder from the box of bullets, which he had set on the dresser. He laid the gun on the bed and sat on the edge next to it.


There is the chaos. There is light and noise. There is silence and grey light encapsulated within the cacophony and sunshine. There is a man, thinking about what it is to be a good father, and what it is to be a good son, awaiting his turn for Father’s Day.

Flash Fiction Challenge #2: Love Doesn’t Grow on Trees

Her dreams were a swirl of the night before. Starting with late night happy hour, a cute boy separated from his herd, drink shots off various body parts, which led then to some surprisingly athletic lovemaking, mixed with visions of the two gazing lovingly in each other’s eyes, finishing up with happily ever after. Sleep melted into awake, but she remained under her comforter, blissfully running through a mental list of men’s names, finally settling on the one that belonged to this new love of her life.

Her eyelids fluttered open, letting the bright morning sunshine in as it blanketed her with its warming glow. She stretched her arms, her legs, and smiled as a rat-a-tat of bass notes erupted from her bottom. A moment later, she remembered, and whispered, “oh, excuse me,” and tried to repress a giggle.

A groggy “what?” came back to her.

“Oh, ‘good morning,’ I said. It seems like a very good morning, doesn’t it?”

The naked young man lying next to her sighed a stinky breath while rubbing both his eyes with each of his hands. “I s’pose.” He turned to look at her beaming face and could not hold back a big, toothy grin. “A good morning following a grrrr-eat night,” he growled, going into a body roll and taking her with him. When their two bodies separated, they both lie gazing up to the whiteness above.

“You know,” she said finally, “I find you quite appealing, but I’m afraid it’s time for you to split. I’ve got to be at work, like, now. The big opening is tonight, and I need all of today to get ready.”


Despite the usual dose of last-minute hiccups, especially painful accompanied by the hangover, the gallery show began without a hitch. The right people, the right music, the right hors d’oeuvres, the right wines, they all came together at just the right time.

She made her way skillfully, yet artfully, through the crowd. She knew when to purse her lips and nod, and when to throw her head back in derisive laughter. All the while, she kept an eye on the works hanging about, seeking out like a missile the little colored dots signifying a purchase. In her head, she was calculating her commissions.

She was standing with a rich grayhair, listening to him drone on about his villa on some island somewhere, expertly suppressing a yawn. It was just as a wave of narcolepsy was creeping up her spine that a flash of yellow flitted in the corner of her eye. “Would you please excuse me?” she said with a delicate touch of fingers to forearm. Fully alert now, she started in the direction of the flash. Halfway across the room, a hand grabbed at her elbow. The hand belonged to her snarky co-worker.

“There’s a bunch of bananas in the next room,” he informed her. “They’re talking about the exhibition. They seem to really like it. You should go find out if they have any money to spend.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“I would do it, but I’m more of a meat-eater, if you know what I mean.” He snorted a little as he laughed at his own joke.

She pulled her elbow free and made her way to the archway connecting the two galleries. Sure enough, there stood three bananas holding champagne glasses and canapés in their white-gloved hands. She paused, collected herself, then strode with dignity toward the man-fruits.

“How are you gentlemen—” she stopped short as she recognized one of their faces. “You!”“Me!” he retorted. “What a turn out! You can really attract quit a buzz. Nothing like the fruit flies that show up at our gigs.” The trio laughed and took swigs from their champagne.

She stood silent for at least a full minute, processing the scene. “Is this a joke? If it is, I really don’t find it funny.”

“I’m not sure I follow. Last night all you could talk about while peeling off your clothes, was this big opening tonight. I brought my friends out to show them how awesome you are.” He turned to both his companions in turn and they each nodded their approval. “I mean, look at you, mingling and hobnobbing with the rich. Everyone in here wearing black, but you’re in this—juicy—orange dress, just like a drop of Florida sunshine.” Again, the bananas bobbed in agreement.

She put one hand on her hip, and the other she held out toward the front door. “You need to leave now.”

They straightened up at once and sober faces appeared where their laughing ones had been. They waited for her to change her mind, but she was steadfast in her pointing. As best they could, they hung their heads as they shuffled toward the door. She was relieved that this mini ordeal was nearly over. Unfortunately, she nor the bananas saw the puddle of bubbly on the slick floor. The lead banana set heel to the wetness, and in a sort of slow motion, lost his battle with gravity. The other bananas, lacking their peripheral vision, didn’t see the impending mayhem and tumbled over their friend and fell with a splat next to him.

She didn’t hear from him again.

Flash Fiction Challenge #1: Angela

Frank was on the counter between the dishwasher and the sink, one leg dangling over the edge, the other bent at the knee with one crooked arm resting on top. This is how I found him most mornings, usually with a smarmy grin on his glowing face.

“You look rather pleased with yourself. Another satisfying night of havoc under your belt?”

“I find it ironic,” Frank said, looking at me with his eyes but otherwise unmoving, “that you and I have absolutely nothing to do, yet these—people are constantly busy.” I looked down at the large table in the center of the room and saw Angela weighing out a large amount of flour. “Always preparing for something.”

“You say that as if you’re any different,” I replied. Frank snorted, eyes back on Angela’s toil.

I lounged atop the bread racks. As the wee hours merged into dawn, the racks would be filled up, the hot tendrils of yeasty steam gently dancing around me. And as the dawn continued into daylight, the racks would be emptied again, leaving me in a musty warmth until night returned. It was a daily ritual I relished, and one which Frank would find to be stifling. His only ritual was to be sitting on the counter when I returned from my nightly wanderings, presumably to check in on his oldest friend. But I know it is only to make sure I haven’t somehow found an exit and left without him.

Although Frank despised tedium, I believe he also visited to witness Angela’s. For years she had been dedicated to her work and inspired others to be the same. It was after her only son was run down by a motorist outside the shop that her dedication turned into obsession. She worked every day, arriving at least an hour earlier than any employee, and remaining at the shop until the last crumb was swept away. In the early mornings, thinking she was alone, she would sometimes talk to her dead child, as if he were right there with her. Frank and I knew better.

This was one of those mornings, as Angela spoke softly about a zoo trip long passed. A gentle smile broke through her usual melancholic countenance. But this only served to rile Frank. “Hey!” he yelled to her, coming out of his pose and leaning from the edge of the counter. “Knock it off!” Angela was oblivious.

Frank came down from the counter to slowly circle the table, keeping his gaze on his prey. I leaned forward on an elbow to get a better look. He walked deliberately, passing the ovens, then the wall with pegs still holding children’s things aloft – a small satchel, a tiny parka, some toys. Angela continued her reverie on caged beasts, unaware of her own predator. When Frank made his way around to her side of the table, he came close enough to stir the air touching her skin. Her body shivered at the sensation, but it gave her no indication that she was not alone. Frank kept going around the table until he was on the opposite side from Angela. He stopped, placed both hands flat on the tabletop, and leaned forward.

“Angela,” he sang. “Angela, your boy’s gone away-ay. He’s no longer he-ere.” There was malice in his voice, but only I could hear it. I relaxed into my lounging posture; I’d seen his taunting act more than enough. I rolled onto my back, and closed my eyes, waiting for his sing-song mockery to end. Soon there was a crash. I was at Frank’s side even before Angela could react to the disturbance. He was at the wall of pegs and had pulled everything down.

“What do you think you’re doing?” I asked.

“I’m showing dear Angela that things change.”

“By throwing all her kid’s stuff on the floor?”

Angela, her heart pounding heavily, looked around the room for a reasonable explanation for why her son’s belongings were at one moment safely hanging on the wall and the next moment falling to the ground. Not finding one, she walked over to the now desecrated shrine, and knelt next to it. She touched each item one by one, ending with the parka which she then held to her chest. I watched her face as it turned from stunned to heartbroken.

In a moment, Frank was behind her. With all his effort, he pushed her down with one foot to her back. When her face was against the floor, he turned to me. “It’s all I can do to hold her down. You have to get that jump rope and pull it around her neck.”

“What are you trying to do?”

“She has to know. I have to make her know.”

“By choking her?” I asked, as I pulled the two little plastic handles over either shoulder. I crossed the two ends until I could see I was causing her discomfort.

“She begs for that boy to stay with her, talks to him as if he were right beside her. Meanwhile, he’s gone forever, and you and me? We will never leave. She’ll be gone, too, and we’ll still be here. She has to know!”

Angela’s arms flailed, reaching behind her back seeking her attacker but finding nothing. I pulled tighter on the jump rope. I didn’t have it in me to do any real damage, and killing her – releasing her – would only have angered Frank more. Soon, her body did go limp, and I let go. Frank stepped back with a heavy sigh.

Moments passed and we heard a key rattling out front. Frank disappeared. I bent down and blew into Angela’s face. Her eyes opened and looked right through mine, bewildered. One hand pulled the rope from her throat, the other still clutched her boy’s parka. Her employee entered the kitchen, and that’s when I disappeared, too.

Challenge #3: Party Crash

There I was, face down and sprawled over the toppled drum kit, spewing beer bottle in one hand, his puggle’s ashes in the other, when Dan walked in. That’s Mr. Rottles to you, only the hottest music producer in the last decade, the owner of the house and everything in it.
            I wouldn’t normally be at a party like that, but my best friend Nikki insisted. Her goal in life is to hitch her wagon to a star – pop, rock, movie, it didn’t matter. To this end, she somehow managed to get an invite from Damian, Mr. Rottles the Younger. I imagine she accomplished this with a little flash of bra strap and the empty promise of more.
Damian is what most people would call a nerd. All his father’s money could do for Damian is straighten his teeth and pay for his acne medicine. His interest in fashion was virtually nonexistant, and his social graces were bordering on grotesque. In spite of this, or maybe because of it, Nikki set her sights on him, and we got ourselves invited.
            Damian seemed almost happy to see us when we arrived what we imagined to be fashionably late. The conversation fizzled faster than pop rocks, and we abandoned him to mingle. We forgot one important element. However unpopular our host, at least he had money. Nikki and I had only an unhealthy fascination with the rich and famous. So, we made our way back to Damian, an easy enough task since he was standing alone in the middle of the living room like a mis-matched lightning rod.
            “You want to see where it all happens?” he said eerily, sort of like he was coaxing us into his laboratory. What he really meant was his dad’s basement recording studio, and of course, we wanted to see it.
            On the way downstairs we passed a lot of rolling eyes and cold shoulders. Those few who actually recognized the spawn of Rottles stopped us to give Damian huge, undulating handshakes and echoing slaps on the back. I felt a tiny bit bad for the guy, but mostly was too proccupied imagining all the important multimedia projects these greeters must have something to do with. I was still running the numbers when we reached the studio.
            It was pretty lush. There was a couple low-riding puffy couches along two walls. The coffee table was some abstract jumble I’m sure I’ve seen in the MOMA catalog. There were a few guitars on a rack in a corner and a five- or six-piece drum kit in another. Nikki found the light switches; she dimmed the room light and turned on the disco ball. Damian didn’t say anything but seemed to be a little nervous. He assumed his lightning rod position in the middle of the room, his eyes darting frantically between myself and Nikki. I plopped down on one of the couches, which seemed to relieve him a fraction, but he kept watch on my curious friend. She found the wetbar and pulled cold beers out of the mini-fridge for each of us. Damian took a couple swallows and finally sat on the edge of the arm of the other couch. His eyes did not leave Nikki.
            We tried to engage him in small talk, to put him at ease. In spite of the darkened room, I could still see the beads of sweat on his retin-A’ed forehead. Soon, Nikki found what she was looking for. Amidst the gold and platinum framed records hanging on the walls was a little brass dog sculpture.
            “What’s this?” she asked, stroking its smooth little head. Damian was on his feet before her first ess.
            “It’s just a knick knack. Nothing important.”
            Nikki’s hand froze on the little dog. She caught my eye with hers and imperceptibly we nodded to each other. There was no way he would have that reaction if she were touching just a knick knack. She wrapped her hand around its belly and lifted more easily than she expected.
            “This is pretty light for a brass sculpture. Is it hollow?” Damian looked at her, then me, nervously. “Be honest, is it a chocolate easter puppy?” This threw Damian off long enough that he didn’t notice Nikki twisting the little dog’s head up and away. She peered inside and a grinch grin curled on her face. “Well, well, well. Looks like we found your dad’s stash.”
            “No. It’s not. It’s actually . . .” Before he could explain, Nikki had the plastic ziplock bag in her hand.
            “What the . . . ?”
            “It’s his dog. Pomfrey the Puggle.” Nikki and I immediatley cracked into hysterical laughter. After a moment, Damian was able to recognize the ridiculousness and joined us.
            “You’ve got to see this yourself.” Nikki tossed the bag in my direction. It landed softly on the cushion beside me. Gingerly, I lifted it with just my fingers and tossed it back to her. Damian’s laughter stopped suddenly when he saw the bag fly past. This pleased us enormously, and Nikki tossed it back to me. I got up from the couch, took a few steps away, and returned the volley. We continued our game of keepaway all over the room, our hysteria growing with each increasingly frantic look from Damian. We threw overhanded, underhanded, from the side, around the back, all the while keeping hold of our beers for the intermittant swig. Thus I found myself behind the drum kit reaching for a short throw from my friend.
            Everything felt in slow motion as I made a little leap up and forward. I crashed into the drums, stepping on the kick drum pedal and elbowing the high hat. I couldn’t hear what I’m sure was a righteous racket as I was so focused on the bag of puggle remains. But doggone it, I caught that bag!
            The lights went up. In walked Dan. “Ladies, so glad you could join us.”

Challenge #2: Remembrance

or, Chocolate and Ashes

            The city is gone, blanketed now by ash and lava fields. Julia stands at the wide windows of the abandoned tower. She takes in the view – random palm trees that somehow managed to remain standing during the fiery onslaught, broken pieces of homes and the small shops and cafés that tourists had flocked to for decades. Now it had all but disappeared, swallowed up by the earth, like the single runway she was now staring at, eaten up by the igneous flood.

            Julia had called this island home for so long, and now she must say good-bye. This island, where she had poured her life into the soil, coaxing out of it the most luscious cacao trees. This island where, with much effort, she was accepted by the locals. This island, where she met and fell in love with Henry.

            She smiles to herself as she thinks of those early days with Henry. Back then, he was merely an amusing distraction, a ne’er-do-well who provided diversion after endless days on the plantation. Henry was full of spark and swagger, always ready with a tall tale or two but seemingly not good for much else. Julia imagined he was a con man, maybe even a pirate when she felt whimsical.

            Still, he held her attention, and she let him work at the plantation. Henry’s thumbs were no greener than a stone statue, and he was better suited to driving workers to and fro, delivering lunch out in the fields, and passing around flasks of rum. But he could always summon a laugh from Julia, even on the most harrowing of days.

            When the mountain began its first rumblings, Julia believed Henry would be  among the first to go. He surprised her by laughing it off, proclaiming that the pile of rocks was just now getting his sense of humor.

            After the tourists, residents with any significant money took off for safer, neighboring islands. With that first group, much of the frivolity left, too. Julia had a harvest to consider, and most of the islanders were too poor to leave until the situation became more dire.

            More dire it did become. Plumes of ash etched the clear blue sky, thickening and throwing shadows across the island. Julia’s workers began to scatter as the heavy clouds drifted down the mountain. And though she couldn’t fault them for opting for safety, she needed those hands, those bodies, to process and bag the cacao beans. It was her livelihood, her life, and it could be gone in minutes if they couldn’t get it off the island before an eruption.

            Henry remained by her side. He not only provided moral support, he worked harder on the plantation. Before, he had stuck with the more skilless tasks, now he was raking in the drying houses, stirring beans in the fermenting boxes, basically doing whatever needed to be done.

            The population dwindled, and Julia became more dependent on Henry. She could finally see beyond his rakish exterior and began to feel deeply for him.

            As the days passed, the rumblings increased. Julia and Henry sent sacks of the ready crops away on each ferry that took more residents to safety. Eventually there was a powerful explosion and lava began to flow. It would overtake the village in short order, and so the harvest was abandoned in favor of a last-minute rescue effort.

            Henry took on an air of authority as he orchestrated the final departure of the remaining islanders. Julia allowed Henry to take charge of her as well, until the last ferry-load of residents was ready to leave the island. She insisted he let her stay back a little longer, claiming she was going to look for any stragglers.

            And so it was that she climbed into the abandoned control tower, now the highest point aside from the spewing crater. Looking out at the smoldering landscape, she takes account of what she has remaining of her life here. In a small duffel she carries a photo album, a small carefully-wrapped cacao plant, and a diary of her life on the island. And when he returns with the ferry for the very last time, she’ll have Henry. Then Julia will have all that she needs.