The Tunnel Dwellers

tunnel tour

Photo Credit: Susan Spaulding

Thousands of people had taken the tour of Seattle’s underground, what was left of the original city after the devastating 1889 fire. The city was rebuilt on its ruins one to two stories above, leaving these tunnels as a monument to history. However, only a few realized that just a portion of the original underground was restored in 1965. People had been taking this tour for over fifty years now, and had never guessed the truth.

An old 1907 newspaper story gave him the clues necessary to find his way into the real world under the streets of Seattle. Over a hundred years ago, the tunnels harbored flophouses for the homeless, gambling halls, speakeasies, and opium dens. They’d been cleared out by police anticipating the 1909 World Fair in Seattle, and left to rot. The tunnels were forgotten by most, but once rediscovered, found a new use. Now they sheltered the city’s covert den of vampires who had been preying on its citizens for decades.

Jeff had seen all he needed to see. He would notify the local branch of the Van Helsings, the international and secret Catholic order of vampire hunters. There would be another fire just after dawn tomorrow.

I wrote this for the Sunday Photo Fiction Challenge of May 20, 2018. The idea is to use the image above as the inspiration for crafting a piece of flash fiction no more than 200 words long. My word count is 197.

The image seemed more benign than sinister, just a bunch of tourists walking around, so I looked up famous tunnel tours. That lead me to Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour of old Seattle, which I’d heard of. I found the original history of the Seattle Underground, including the fire, and then the other facts I cited in my small story.

It was perfect for horror, which I knew because I’d watched the 1973 television movie “The Night Strangler” starring Darren McGavin, back in the day.

I decided to leverage the world I created in my Sean Becker vampire stories. Now a centuries old banned Catholic order of vampire hunters has found where Seattle’s population of the undead has been hiding. Collateral damage is assured, but in their eyes, it’s a small price to pay for ridding the Northwest of these feared, supernatural predators.

To read other stories based on the prompt, visit InLinkz.com.

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The Elephants of Yesterday

elephant

© C.E. Ayr

“Which end is the face?”

The class started giggling at Dao’s remark, and Gima laughed so loud that their teacher Mr. Ji scowled at her.

“That’s her tail, but you’re right, it could be her trunk.”

“What are they called again?” Merilyn looked down at the small sign next to the reconstructions. “Elephant. That’s a funny name.”

The twenty six-year-olds were milling about the “mother and child” exhibit. It was their class’s annual field trip, and this year, Mr. Ji had chosen the Mother Planet Museum in the capital city of Colima.

“All of their names will sound strange because we aren’t familiar with them, just like the appearance of these animals seems so odd.”

The excitable redheaded Merilyn circled the “elephants” again and again, trying to imagine what they’d be like if they were alive.

“Do they still exist?”

“It’s difficult to say. They were an endangered species when our colony ship was launched three-hundred years ago, but we can’t communicate with Earth over so many light years.”

Their teacher started guiding the class toward another exhibit, but Merilyn stayed behind, looking into the eyes of the smaller representation. “I hope you made it, elephant.”

I wrote this for the Sunday Photo Fiction Challenge for May 13, 2018. The idea is to use the image above to inspire crafting a piece of flash fiction no more than 200 words long. My word count is 200.

I just finished submitting a nearly 10,000 word science fiction short story for potential publication in an anthology, and part of it included Mr. Ji’s first grade class (in a flashback). Since I have Merilyn and her classmates on my mind, I thought I’d include them in a museum tour on their colony world, trying to learn more about their “mother planet” Earth.

To read other stories based on the prompt, visit InLinkz.com.

From Wind to Steam

hot air balloon

© Susan Spaulding

Lee Guzman had been operating his small, hot air balloon business for five years, but he always got the same question.

“You sure this thing is safe?”

“You bet, Craig. As easy as riding a bicycle.”

The latest pair to grace his gondola were Craig and Shawn Tucker, brothers who ran a parcel delivery service in nearby Macon.

They’d been steadily climbing under partly cloudy skies, but now the balloon was ascending into a gray mist that hadn’t been there a minute ago.

“What the hell?” They all grabbed the rigging as the five-mile-an-hour breeze from the northwest suddenly turned into a hurricane.

“Beats me, but hang on!” It was all Lee could say. This wasn’t just unpredictable weather, it was crazy impossible. Amazingly, the balloon held together, that is, until they all heard the rip.

“We’re going down!”

The wind quit abruptly, and they descended below the mist.

“Hey, ain’t that the Golden Gate Bridge?

It was, but nowhere near their San Francisco. Steamships were crossing from the City to Marin County, and the air was full of dirigibles and biplanes. It wasn’t the past, it was something else, like another world, and a new adventure had just begun.

I wrote this for the Sunday Photo Fiction for May 6, 2018 writing challenge. The idea is to use the image above as the inspiration for crafting a piece of flash fiction no more than 200 words long. My word count is 200.

Since I’ve had steampunk on my mind lately, and since the prompt is an image of a hot air balloon, I decided to send these three guys on a little trip.

In the 1961 film adaptation to Jules Verne’s novel “Mysterious Island,” escapees from a Confederate prisoner of war camp in 1865 steal an observation balloon in a storm, and are taken over the Pacific Ocean, eventually to be deposited on a “mysterious island.”

I used that basic premise, setting the initial scene near the former Andersonville Prison (later known as Camp Sumter) near modern day Andersonville, Georgia, and then had the “strange gray cloud” be a gateway, not to a mysterious island or the past, but an alternate “steampunk” universe, like the one I’ve been crafting in this series.

To read other stories based on the prompt, visit InLinkz.com.

An Unlikely Seagull

seagull

© Alastair Forbes

Sixteen year old Jeff would do anything, even go to the zoo with his parents and brothers, rather than deal with Suzanna’s jealousy. He had to turn off the ringtone and vibrate features on his iPhone and block the SMS service so she couldn’t call or text him.

At first, he thought he was going to be bored, but all of the different animal exhibits were interesting and even fun.

He still couldn’t get his mind off of Suzanna, though. When they started dating, she seemed nice, if a bit strange, but now she was totally possessive. Lucky he had Jan to talk to, but if Suzanna ever found out…

There was a big crowd in front of him at the Seal exhibit, but he wanted a photo, so he held his phone over his head to get a picture.

“Hey!” Jeff felt a sudden jerk and looked up to see a large seagull flying away with his iPhone. Mom and Dad were going to kill him.

Suzanne landed behind the public restrooms at Ocean Beach near Sloat and then transformed back into a teenage girl. “Now we’ll see what you’ve been texting to that little slut Jan.”

I wrote this for the Sunday Photo Fiction Challenge of April 8th, 2018. The idea is to use the image above to inspire the creation of a piece of flash fiction no more than 200 words long. My word count is 198.

I must confess that I read Joy Pixley’s story Secret Salvos before crafting my tale, so I was probably influenced by it.

The object in the gull’s mouth looks kind of like a cell phone, though I doubt the bird could hold something so (relatively) heavy in its beak for very long. That means it couldn’t be an ordinary seagull, could it?

Way, way back in the day, like the late 1970s, I remember visiting the San Francisco Zoo (where my story is set) and I was about to feed a seal a piece of fish, holding it (the fish, not the seal) above my head, when I felt a sudden jerk and the fish was gone. A seagull had flown down and plucked it out of my hand. I let Suzanna do the same thing with Jeff’s phone.

To read other stories based on the prompt, go to InLinkz.com.

Oh, I understand the host of this challenge has to let it go at the end of the month due to health problems. My schedule prevents me from having sufficient discretionary time to pick it up, but I hope someone else will.

The Guardian

orange vest

© A Mixed Bag – 2013

Glenn Carroll had to do something, so he arranged to work nights and spend school hours as a cross walk guard. He was surprised to find he really enjoyed talking to the elementary age kids (and he had three of his own), and between getting children across the street mornings and afternoons, he acted as hall monitor. The chances of anything really happening here were pretty small, but he felt better being there, just in case.

He was walking down the main hall when he heard a familiar voice. “Mr. Carroll, I’ve just called the police. A couple of the students said they saw a man with a gun near the playground.” Principal Ava Martinez was waving him over to the office. “We’re going on lock down until the officers arrive and clear the situation.”

“Thanks. I’ll look into it.”

“But Mr. Carroll…”

Glenn looked outside in the direction Martinez pointed and chuckled. Then he went out to tell the gardener that in a few seconds, a SWAT team was going to ask him to put down his rake. After that, he’d go speak with the SWAT Commander, identify himself as an off-duty officer, and straighten this mess out.

I wrote this for the Sunday Photo Fiction Challenge of March 25th 2018. The idea is to use the image above as the inspiration for crafting a piece of flash fiction no more than 200 words long. My word count is 199.

Social and news media is currently replete with stories and commentaries about the protests prompted by the Parkland School shooting and things are getting pretty heated. I recall a story I read some months back about how the police were called to a local Middle School because there had been a report of a man on campus with a rifle. It turns out the rifle was some sort of gardening tool (I don’t remember the specific type), and after a brief flurry of activity, the situation was defused.

I’m not making light of the rights of citizens, whether adults or children, to protest, and regardless of where you stand on the issue of Second Amendment rights to bear arms, these students have a right to express themselves and to have a safe school environment.

But since the fellow in the image reminded me of a school crossing guard (most of the ones I’ve seen are retired men and women), I decided to add a concerned father and police officer (yes, even off duty, he was armed) to the situation. There are those few times when dangerous people walk on campus, but it is also important to have someone around who can evaluate a perceived threat. No one wants innocent children to be shot, but then again, you don’t want to shoot someone who superficially looks to be a threat but turns out to be a guy with a rake.

To read other stories based on the prompt, go to InLinkz.com.

Curse of the Mini-Mummy

mummies

© A Mixed Bag 2013

“Oh you’re not actually indulging him in this obsession, are you?” Jean saw the three toy Egyptian mummies, one with the sarcophagus open revealing an unwrapped head. “Ever since you showed Jimmy those stupid old movies, he can’t get enough of them.”

“Relax. It’s just a phase. I went through it when I was his age. Those Mummy films are classics.”

Mike’s wife stormed off in disgust wondering if her husband ever really grew up.

“Jimmy, come here. I’ve got something for you.”

The nine-year-old rushed into his Grandpa’s study room. “Oh wow! Where did you get those?”

“A little curio shop on the south side. They sell all kinds of strange stuff. I thought you’d be interested. The box even contains what the shopkeeper called ‘Tana leaves’.”

“Real Tana leaves?”

“Probably not, but you can pretend.”

Later that night, when his grandparents were in the living room watching TV, Jimmy began the ancient rite he’d seen in those 1940s movies, burning three of the leaves in a small bowl. Tonight was the full moon, and as the fumes from the Tana leaves reached the partly unwrapped miniature mummy, its eyes began to glow.

I wrote this for the Sunday Photo Fiction Challenge for March 18th 2018. The idea is to use the image above as the prompt for writing a piece of flash fiction no more than 200 words long. My word count is 194.

The “mummies” in the photo are obviously small and fake, but they gave me an idea. I mined elements of old Universal studios monster movies such as The Mummy’s Hand (1940) and The Mummy’s Ghost (1944) to create my wee tale. What will happen when the fumes from the Tana leaves brings these “mini-mummies” to life?

To read other stories based on the prompt, go to InLinkz.com.

Bad Timing

shopping centre

© A Mixed Bag 2013

There are always a few cars left overnight in any parking garage. Some had battery trouble and couldn’t be towed before the end of business while others belonged to people who’d have one too many at a local pub. It was a Sunday morning and the gates were shut and locked so no entry and no exit.

Smith (not her real name) let herself out of the boot of a gray Audi and took the service stairs up to street level. Her victim Medina came into his shop Sunday mornings ostensibly to catch up on paperwork, but in reality he was her competition. There was only room for one assassin in southern England.

Smith looked at her antique analog watch. He should be in the back of his shop by now getting ready for his next assignment. Wait. The shop is dark. He locks the front door but keeps the light on. What the devil?

She hears the silenced shot the same instant the impact strikes her lower spine and she collapses onto the floor. A shoe slips under and rolls her over. Smith looks up at Medina. “Stupid. Did you forget about Daylight Savings Time? You’re early.”

I wrote this for the Sunday Photo Fiction Challenge of March 11th 2018. The idea is to use the image above as the inspiration for crafting a piece of flash fiction no more than 200 words long. My word count is 198.

I hate Daylight Savings Time, especially in the Spring when I lose an hour’s worth of sleep. It was made worse today because last night I stayed up late and this morning, I had to be at the gym by eight so I could claim the one and only squat rack they have. It sucked.

I decided to vent my ire by writing this tale. Poor Smith’s analog watch didn’t automatically update as so many digital watches do these days. Oh, before someone mentions it, I know the time change doesn’t occur in the UK until March 25th.

To read other stories based on the prompt, go to InLinkz.com.

A Case of Mistaken Identity

snowman

© Jade Wong

“We should call him Mr. Snowy McTinsel.”

“Grandpa, that’s a silly name for a snowman.”

“Okay, Daria. What would you name him?”

“How about Frosty?”

“That one’s been used.”

“A name can be used for more than one snowman.” The six-year-old stomped her foot down in resignation.

“If you say so, but we’d better get you back home now. Sun’s going down.”

“Can I have cookies?”

“Dinner first, then cookies.”

The pair walked away bidding the newly crafted snowman farewell, the old man crinkling the left over aluminum foil in his pocket. When they were gone, metallic eyes shimmered and glowed.

“We have arrived after our long slumber, Amon.”

“Indeed Gaap, and claimed the first possession for Legion.”

“Wait,” cried Zagan. “Something’s wrong. I can’t move the arms.”

“You’re right,” added Kasadya. And it doesn’t have feet or legs either.”

“By Lucifer, I should never have put you in charge of choosing the first victim, Gaap. Now we’re stuck inside of this…this object.”

“It’s been so long. I just forgot what humans looked like.”

“Terrific,” sulked Amon. “Now we’ll have to wait until the thaw before being free to roam the Earth again.”

“But Amon, this is Canada.”

I wrote this for the Sunday Photo Fiction – March 4th 2018 challenge. The idea is to use the image above as the inspiration for crafting a piece of flash fiction no more than 200 words long. My word count is 198.

I’ve written a lot of “snowman” and “Grandchildren” stories, but seeing that this snow-being used aluminum foil gave me the idea of glowing eyes. The rest just sort of wrote itself.

To read other stories based on the prompt, go to InLinkz.com.

The Other Side

corridor

© J. Hardy Carroll

This had to be a dream because it had that totally unreal feeling about it. He was walking down a corridor with closed doors on either side, but the one he really wanted was the doorway straight ahead. He could see daylight coming from underneath. It was the way out.

He also couldn’t help but notice the fire extinguisher on the floor to the left of the doorway. They’re usually mounted on the wall.

His footsteps were silent even on the break floor but he could hear the sound of his own breathing so he was alive.

He stopped at the door and pressed his ear against it to listen. It was hot, really hot. He couldn’t hear anything but had to pull his head away.

“In for a penny.” His voice sounded strange to him. Then he gave the metal doorknob a brief touch. Too hot to touch. He had a rag in his back pocket and he used that to protect his hand.

He pushed the door open gently. Flames. A city street outside a cheap motel. He grabbed the extinguisher and created a path. There was a figure just ahead. “Welcome to Hell.”

Then he woke up.

I wrote this for the Sunday Photo Fiction Challenge of February 11th 2018. The idea is to use the image above as the prompt for authoring a piece of flash fiction no more than 200 words long. My word count is 200.

The tale is pretty much taken from all of the visual cues. The image looks unreal but the sepia tone plus the fire extinguisher say there’s something hot. I picked “Hell” but then decided it was all a dream after all because I didn’t sleep well and my dreams were pretty messed up anyway. No research this time, just reactions.

To read other stories based on the prompt, go to InLinkz.com.

Are They Windmills or Giants?

windmills

© C.E. Ayr

“Don Quixote?”

Wendy hadn’t visited her Uncle Brian’s place in Idaho for years but Mom finally “guilted” her into making the trip from California.

“I keep it as a reminder.”

They had been going through old keepsakes in his spare bedroom where she’d be sleeping, looking for family photo albums when they came across it.

“Of what?”

“That we can be easily deluded about what is and isn’t real.”

She thought this was as good a time as any. Wendy loved the old man but he had some pretty archaic ideas. “I brought you something.” She reached into her open suitcase, pulled out a book, and handed it to him.

“The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood,” he read from the cover. “I’ve heard of it.”

“I thought it might help you understand me better now that I’m grown up.”

“I’ll promise to read it on one condition.”

“What’s that?”

He left the room and came back a few minutes later with a dusty hardback he had obviously owned for decades. Taking it, she read the cover. “Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell.”

“Right, Wendy. I’ll read your book if you read mine. Maybe you’ll learn to understand me better, too.”

I wrote this for the Sunday Photo Fiction Challenge for January 21st 2018. The idea is to use the image above as the inspiration for creating a piece of flash fiction no more than 200 words long. My word count is 199.

The image is obviously the iconic scene of Don Quixote in Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s 17th century novel tilting at windmills which he imagined to be giants.

Yesterday was the Women’s March of 2018 which, like the same event a year before, was largely a protest against the policies of U.S. President Donald Trump. I have mixed feelings about how some portions of it were executed, especially the fact of some protestors dressing in costumes designed to mimic female genitals.

Other women however, dressed as characters from Atwood’s novel which has now been developed as a television series.

Both Atwood’s and Orwell’s novels, written decades apart, predict a dystopian future where society is ruled by a totalitarian government. Orwell created a cautionary tale about what life would be like under a communist/socialist dictatorship, while Atwood took the opposite approach casting her totalitarian regime as conservative and Christian.

I used the image of “tilting at windmills” to illustrate, based on the manipulation of news and social media, how easily we can lose track of what is factual and what is not. If we simply believe what we’re told, then we can allow ourselves to blindly follow one ideology or another without considering the stability of the foundation upon which those beliefs are based.

So the younger and more liberal Wendy will make an effort to understand her Uncle’s perspectives while the older and more conservative Brian will do the same.

To read other stories based on the prompt, go to InLinkz.com.