The Fan

maradona

© Susan Spaulding

“And here you go. My pride and joy, so to speak. Signed shirt from the great man himself.” Andrew Cullen puffed up his chest as he showed his friend Tommy Cabrera his trophy room. “Diego Maradona. Best footballer ever. Your American mates call what you have football, but this is the real deal.”

“I wasn’t always an American, Andrew, and I know what real football is.”

“Oh yeah. Sorry about that. You emigrated to the States from Argentina, right?”

“Yes.” Tomás and Andrew met online at a fiction writers forum five years prior and hit it off. Now Cabrera was visiting his friend in Swords, outside of Greater Dublin, while on a promotional tour. His fictionalized autobiography had become a runaway bestseller, and he had personal appearances scheduled for all over the UK and Europe.

“Anything the matter? You’ve gone awfully silent.”

“Just remembering, Andrew.” Tomás didn’t give voice to the memory of growing up in a totalitarian socialist regime, nor how Diego Maradona had unswervingly supported the communist dictators who had crushed the souls of his family, and nearly killed him. “Sorry. I can’t say I’m much of a fan.”

I wrote this for the Sunday Photo Fiction Challenge for 15 July 2018. The idea is to use the image above as the prompt for crafting a piece of flash fiction no more than 200 words long. My word count is 191.

Being an American, I don’t know much about the World Cup, and in fact, I don’t follow sports even in my own country. I had to look up Diego Maradona and discovered he has a colorful history. I chose to focus on his political views and found out he supports a number of socialist dictators, including Carlos Menem, Fidel Castro, and Hugo Chávez. No, I’m not much of a fan, either.

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

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595 Hitori Kakurenbo

595 old house

© C.E. Ayr

The Occultist had been a small child when he was last here. He remembered playing in the yard, ringing the now rusted bell next to the forlorn gate, playing behind the trees out back, and eating pizza with his Grandpa on the shaded patio. All of his memories of this home were happy and joyful except for the one that was horrifying.

The house and grounds had been neglected for the past twenty years. When his Dad inherited it after Grandpa’s tragic death, he didn’t have the heart to sell it or have the structure demolished. Raymund stood at the gate, closed his eyes, and said a silent prayer of gratitude. If the house at 595 Hitori Kakurenbo had been destroyed, he would have no hope of discovering the identity of the inhuman being who had slaughtered his Grandfather two decades ago. Raymund had only been seven years old when it happened, and was the only witness to the murder.

His Grandfather’s long career as a paranormal investigator had finally caught up with him. Raymund spent the past decade training for this moment. Tonight, he would discover the identity of Grandpa’s inhuman killer and bring it to fearful justice.

I wrote this for the Sunday Photo Fiction Challenge of July 1, 2017 hosted by Susan. The idea is to use the image above as the prompt for creating a piece of flash fiction no more than 200 words long. My word count is 198.

Yesterday, I again discovered the hazards of allowing children unmonitored access to the internet. My nine-year-old grandson showed me a video on YouTube called 10 Paranormal Games You Should Never Play. He wanted to incorporate some of them into a game we’ve been playing (role playing game, so it all exists in the imagination), but after viewing them, I said absolutely not.

Chances are, all of these are hoaxes, but if you have faith in God, you have to accept that there is a supernatural realm, and the danger of falling into evil.

I borrowed the villain and the street name from the original appellation of one of those games to act as the murderer and the address of the crime scene. Yes, today’s wee tale takes a turn into the darkness, however, I rarely can let evil win, so I’m also planning for redemption.

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

This Year’s Father’s Day

father's day

Photo credit: Susan Spaulding

Every morning for the past three years, Gary took his convenience store donut and coffee to the park and had breakfast at one of the picnic tables. It had been a difficult time between the forced retirement and then Helen suddenly and angrily divorcing him. Most of all, he missed his kids and grandkids. They’d taken Helen’s side in the split up. He was lonely but stoic, or at least he pretended to be.

“Grandpa! Grandpa!” It was his grandson Tony running up to him from the parking lot. The eleven-year-old hit him like a loving freight train.

“You’ve really grown. I’ve missed you.” They drowned in each other’s arms.

Gary looked up to find himself surrounded by all of his kids, their spouses, and all of his grandkids.

Emily, his youngest, kissed him on the cheek. “Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Come home with us and have a real breakfast. We love you.”

It took a few minutes for the old man to compose himself enough to leave the park with his forgiving family.

I wrote this for the Sunday Photo Fiction of June 17, 2018 hosted by Susan. The idea it to take the image above and use it as a prompt for creating a piece of flash fiction no more than 200 words long. My word count is 174.

I cheated somewhat and read Iain’s story before writing my own. Since his theme was Father’s Day ( realize there are parts of the world that don’t have this celebration) and I’m a Dad and Grandpa, I decided to go that route as well, taking a sad beginning and brightening it.

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

57 Pink Flamingos

pink flamingos

© Susan Spaulding

“$2500! You spent $2500 on that?” Jeanette watched in horror as she watched her husband Terry insert the last of the 57 pink flamingos he’s purchased on Amazon into their front lawn. The driveway was littered with the debris of cardboard shipping boxes.

“Come on. We can afford it. You know how much dough we stashed away from the Corleone caper.”

“That’s not the point. But we’re supposed to keep a low profile, you moron. Why don’t you just get a couple of spotlights and set off some fireworks while you’re at it? Maybe you could send an email to Vito and Sonny telling them our address so they could come over and blow our brains out.”

Terry walked to where his wife was standing on the front porch and put his arm around her. “They look swell, don’t they?” The Cheshire Cat never had a grin as wide as his.

“You’re nuts. They’re tacky as hell.”

“Exactly. We embezzled millions from the mob working as their accountants and we’re on the lam from them and the Feds. What better cover to hide behind than the queen of all tacky lawn ornaments?

I wrote this for the Sunday Photo Fiction Challenge for June 10, 2018. The idea is to use the image above as the inspiration for crafting a piece of flash fiction of no more than 200 words. My word count is 189.

Lacking an immediate story idea when I first saw the photo, I Googled “Pink Flamingo” only to come up with the tacky but classic 1972 film Pink Flamingos created by John Waters. Except for the idea of criminals hiding out, I found nothing I could use in that movie (and I’ve never seen it), so I moved on.

Then I found The Tacky History of the Pink Flamingo at Smithsonian.com and I had the rest of my “hook.”

These plastic monstrosities were created in 1957 in an effort to allow people to accessorize the “sameness” of their tract homes that reproduced like lemmings in the post-war era. You can read the full history for yourself, but apparently:

In their yard near Leominster, Nancy and Don Featherstone (the sculptor who was commissioned to create pink flamingos) typically tend a flock of 57 (a nod to the creation year) that neighborhood college students feel compelled to thin.

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

The State of Dying

burned house

© C.E. Ayr

“This is the perfect place.”

“But it’s just a burned up building, Grandpa.”

“Exactly, Amy. Bring your brothers and sisters. Tell them to have their squirt guns fully loaded. We’re going to have a supersoaker blast playing “spy” in here.”

The eight-year-old grinned as she ran back next door to his house. His neighbor’s wrecked home reminded him that he needed to move out soon too. He’d turn seventy next year, and the state’s ridiculous “right-to-die” law for the terminally ill now allowed legalized murder of anyone over that age, whether they wanted to go or not.

Their bloated environmental laws worked about as well as their population laws. The government had killed 75% of the native plants and animals, and now they were working on the people.

He turned as he heard five pairs of running feet approaching. “You better get going, Grandpa.” At ten, Chad wasn’t the oldest, but he was the ringleader.

“Unless you want to get soaked.” Five-year-old Emily had that “killer” gleam in her eye.

“I’m running.” Mitch dashed into the ruined structure. He had to move the family to one of the free states before the jackboots came after them all.

I wrote this for the Sunday Photo Fiction Challenge of June 3, 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 196.

For some reason, the image reminded me of both Florida and California. I chose the latter since I used to live there, and “Googling” the search string “California dying,” I came up with plenty of information on that state’s “right to die” law at both The Los Angeles Times and Death with Dignity. I also found an article about the demise of California’s Sierra forests, which are perishing in spite of all the tax money California’s state senate can throw at the environment.

I know “dying with dignity” is a controversial issue. People of faith tend to believe that giving and taking life should be left to God alone, but it’s hard to watch someone slowly dying and in great pain when you could ease their suffering.

Also, I actually do have a great concern for the environment. One of the reasons I like living in Idaho is because of the vast areas of wilderness, the mountains, rivers, and lakes. But something obviously went wrong in California’s case, because people from that state are moving here in droves.

Anyway, putting that all together, I authored today’s wee dystopian tale.

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

Fallen Hero

headstone dog

Photo Credit: Susan Spaulding

Marine Corporeal Jeffrey DeYoung could barely hold back his tears as he accepted the folded American flag in honor of Cena. Five-hundred people were attending his funeral, all Marines in their dress blues. Cena had been raised to be a Marine since he was very young, and during his tours in Afghanistan, he’d saved thousands of lives.

“There’ll never be another like you.” DeYoung listened to the taps performance as the coffin was lowered into the grave escorted by eight German shepherds. Then, on command, they issued their own salute to their fallen comrade, howling for thirty seconds.

Cena fell, not in the service of his country, but to bone cancer. The Michigan war dog was interned with seventeen other military canines. This weekend, we mourn our honored dead in the United States Armed Forces, but never forget the most dedicated and loyal members of the service are not always human.

cena

Cena with his handler Marine Cpl Jeffery DeYoung – Photo Credit: Fox 2 News.

I wrote this for the Sunday Photo Fiction – May 27, 2018 writing challenge. 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 151.

Given that this is the Memorial Day weekend in the U.S., and seeing the prompt was a photo of a dog and a headstone, I thought it fitting to pay homage to the dogs who have served our country. My tale is a fictionalized version of the events in the news story Michigan bomb-sniffing war dog gets military funeral. On August 24, 2017, Cena was buried with full military honors at a cemetery in South Lyon, Michigan. You can click the link to get all the details, but it’s very touching.

In doing my research, I also found a book on the history of military dogs, as well as this commentary.

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

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.

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.