What better way to celebrate the arrival of fall than with a flash fiction writing contest. AND the prize is terrific: a copy of Dogs of Proud Spirit.
(That means the winner has to have a US mailing address)
The usual rules apply:
1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.
2. Use these words in the story:
3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. The letters for the
prompt must appear in consecutive order. They cannot be backwards.
Thus: spirit/spirited is ok, but spirit/esprit de corps is not
4. Post the entry in the comment column of THIS blog post.
5. One entry per person. If you need a mulligan (a do-over) erase your entry and post again. It helps to work out your entry first, then post.
6. International entries are allowed, but prizes may vary for international addresses.
7. Titles count as part of the word count (you don't need a title)
8. Under no circumstances should you tweet anything about your particular entry to me. Example: "Hope you like my entry about Felix Buttonweezer!" This is grounds for disqualification.
8a. There are no circumstances in which it is ok to ask for feedback from ME on your contest entry. NONE. (You can however discuss your entry with the commenters in the comment trail...just leave me out of it.)
9. It's ok to tweet about the contest generally.
Example: "I just entered the flash fiction contest on Janet's blog and I didn't even get a lousy t-shirt"
10. Please do not post anything but contest entries. (Not for example "I love Felix Buttonweezer's entry!")
11. You agree that your contest entry can remain posted on the blog for the life of the blog. In other words, you can't later ask me to delete the entry and any comments about the entry at a later date.
12. The stories must be self-contained. That is: do not include links or footnotes to explain any part of the story. Those extras will not be considered part of the story.
Contest opens: 8:55am, September 3, 2016
Contest closes: 9am, September 4, 2016
If you're wondering how much time you have before the contest closes: click here.
If you'd like to see the entries that have won previous contests, there's
an .xls spread sheet here http://www.colindsmith.com/TreasureChest/
(Thanks to Colin Smith for organizing and maintaining this!)
Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid
No! No! Too late, you missed it! Sorry!
Before her, life was chasing bottles and single-serve booty.
During our first date, I found clarity.
After we kissed, my spirit lifted.
Before proposing, I pled my case to her dad.
During the ceremony, her love made me proud.
After the reception, giggity giggity.
Before having kids, we wanted to travel the world.
During horseback lessons along the Dordogne, she realized she was late.
After the miscarriage, we found solace in each other.
Before the tears dried, the tests came back.
During the chemo, I witnessed true strength.
Before her, life lacked meaning.
After her, life is empty.
I flicked Aloysius and Nebuchadnezzar on their asses to get the wagon moving. Why my high-spirited wife wants to name every critter after some fancy-pants person, I don’t know. Our horse, Jebediah disappeared in Kansas, damn rustlers. The dog, Jedediah died in the Rockies—thankfully, he tasted good. After the Sioux stole our meager herd, she named our youngest son after them. I proudly buried him in the Utah Territories, knowing we’d never have to fight. Thank God, she died today. One less mouth to feed. If our oldest sons, Al and Neb don’t get moving, I’ll eat them too.
In a perverse way we were proud of her. She had the perseverance of a bulldog and had run an arduous course that thinned many from the herd.
She lay quiescent for a while and many said she was done, her spirit gone. She managed to wrap herself up and began to move. She found an easier path and new energy. Like a recalcitrant horse with the bit in her teeth she turned on us.
She earned her name by tossing a nine foot storm surge at Taylor County. Then Hermine raced away up the coast leaving a terrible wake.
The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Cara stared at the dog-eared page she knew by heart. A rhyme she had learned but could never say, in a book he never knew he owned, hidden for Cara to find.
The spine creaked the first time she turned the cover. Felt the hum in her veins the first time she read the words. This was back when her dress fit. Five years in horsehair and chains.
The spirit is willing, but the flesh… the flesh is proud.
She began the chant. His heart stopped. The chains broke.
When the light of the blood moon pierced the lonely grave, the proud spirit punched through loamy earth. Above the desolate field, she howled like a sick dog. She possessed no memories, only a thirst for vengeance.
She flew over the badlands, raising enough dust for a herd of horses. She paused over the church boneyard and tore into town, an angry, animated gale.
The brick house seemed familiar. She passed inside and found a big man weeping at a small table. And then she remembered. Her son’s death, her own suicide.
No wonder they buried me in unconsecrated ground.
The herd thundered across the hilltop, dark figures racing amid a cloud of swirling dust. I watched, mesmerized, my heart echoing the sound of their pounding hooves. At my side, Spirit whined. I reached down to stroke the dog’s silken head. Was she frightened or did she just long to join the horses in their exquisite freedom?
“It’s okay, girl.”
But hell, I had to ask myself the same question.
The trembling earth quieted as the last of the proud creatures faded into the distance. An unfamiliar aching took root in my chest.
I think I had my answer.
Heed a horse herd at Proud Spirit ranch
They canter and gallop and roam carte blanche.
loved by the kind lady who governs their meads
they follow her tractor wherever she leads.
Pigs love their Pigm’hal, corgis the floor
Mixed breeds and goofy dogs, abandoned galore
Rescues and heartbreak, this kind couple toil
for critters are welcomed on Proud Spirit soil.
“Watch that dogie.”
“I got him.” Alfred squeezed with his knees and his horse shot forward, covering the ground in five long strides. He reined her in and turned, nudging the calf back toward the herd. On the canyon rim above them, a bull elk stood proud, silhouetted against the sunset. Perfect.
Alfred dismounted the repurposed carousel horse, today’s test complete. He patted her lacquered neck and grinned. This was genius. Maybe Warp-speed Croquet hadn’t sold a so well, and the less said about Virtual Spelunker the better, but Cowboy Spirit was a winner. He’d bet the ranch on it.
Bartok played guitar with a classical quartet. He was a great proficient. Still, the others threw picks at him like bones to the dogs. "Your fingers are so thick." They sawed their strings with horsehair, but he was the lout who needed frets.
He could have let it go, if not for his proud spirit -- and his herd of "cousins" with sinister violin cases. Instead, he played the last coda alone, bodies drooped over the stage like roses for the Maestro.
His guitar may have lost the resonance of maple, but nothing beats a Tommy gun like 3/4-inch reinforced steel.
The last dog was eaten, and the men had begun to falter. But across the ice, he knew, the American was doing much worse. He’d discovered the flag just yesterday, jutting proud from the polar snow like a middle finger.
He’s got spirit, he thought, his eyes sweeping the glacier in the dim light. But he’s a fool. He’s still strapping men to sleds like horses.
“Men can’t be eaten,” he murmured.
Behind, a voice.
“Base camp! Thank God!”
A hundred miles south, Mother Nature’s frozen saliva condensed in a cloud as she prepared to devour her disciples.
He was a good little boy with so much spirit—what did I do wrong? Were his pencils kept too sharp?
“You must be so proud,” other parents would say. Now when asked, of course, they always knew something was wrong.
Laughing, he chased his friends into the woods, where later, they say he trampled mice. Graduated (with honours) to a dog at thirteen. Twenty-one warranted bolder prey: two beautiful horses.
If they’d locked him up, the girl would still be alive.
Too much spirit—he could never be another sheep in the herd.
Sheep make good children.
My heart aches as I place her last drawing back on the table. The bright yellow of the crayon horse burns my groggy eyes.
People have come in flocks, herding around me with care and telling me to keep my spirits up.
But I can’t.
I hear barking and see the white fluff of my dog jumping at the door. I look around at the messy room, once proud to have people come to my home.
Through the open door, his badge shines in the morning light and he says the words I’ve been waiting for.
“We found her.”
The first animal we've seen since the dogs died out: a horse so skinny there's merely bones outlining its existence.
The dead air stirs; the spirit of sound in the distance, and we know there must be more on the move, but only two or three, not a herd.
Angel and I take cover in the skeleton that was forest. She makes me proud: a new breed in a new world. She is strong in the advent of this new hell.
But I have to steel myself at their arrival: three more horses bearing one horseman more than their number.
Neigh galloped home across the green grass.
“I cannot play with Bark anymore. He’s a dumb dog who disagrees with everything I say.”
“But he is your friend. You must listen to each other,” Father Horse said.
“Why? Who cares if we don’t get along?”
“There was a spirited creature called a human a long time ago. The humans formed two opposing herds and instead of working together, they destroyed their civilization. We animals must learn from the humans.”
“I don’t want to destroy.”
“Neither do I.”
“I will offer Bark a new stick.”
“You have made me proud, Neigh.”
Buying the ranch was supposed to be therapeutic. Riding horses to forget being a dog of war. But the liquor cabinet holds so much more appeal than the livestock. Chasing spirits to lose the ones chasing me.
Johnny and I were going to make Pop proud. But all I felt, wading through herds of corpses, was shame.
Johnny said we were heroes. But now he's a phantom, haunting, like my lower left leg.
They gave me a Purple Heart to complement my bruised black one. They didn't know it was friendly fire. Except, by then, we were no longer friends.
Knots twisted his dirty mane into a tangle. My hand swept his sunken back, it's bones bisecting his rib cage, lying just under a patchy hair coat. A lead rope was attached to a halter two sizes too big for this aged Arabian horse. Once a proud, spirited stallion, he had sired foals that commanded prices only millionaires could afford.
Bad owners, interested in only what he could give them, no longer dogged him.
His large eyes glistened with recognition. His head lifted, a soft nicker fluttered his nostrils. He was coming home to his herd and my love.
The proud herd lounged about the field, chewing, stamping, and snorting. The spirit of my recently deceased Buster roamed here as well. He was not a horse, but a dog who loved the range and the herd equally. On cool mornings I sometimes caught a glimpse of a formless shape flitting between wisps of fog that rose from the springs hidden behind the Junipers and Oaks. It did not surprise me when shortly after his death a rainbow appeared in the sky three days consecutively, and only on one day that had the proper conditions for rainbows.
The hungry mooing carried across the misty fields. Every morning, the sound reminded Alisha how much she missed him. The feelings pushed aside, she busied herself with the needs of the herd.
Deep down, she was proud of Josh for leaving as much as it hurt her. He fought for the safety of the country, the town . . . her.
Hoofbeats outside stilled her. Caught in the reverie, she’d come to the barn without a gun. As she peered around the door, Josh dismounted his horse with the dog circling his feet. Her spirit soared. Promise kept, he was home.
“Enter,” droned a voice.
Victor pushed through the beaded curtain and lowered his khakied behind. The cushion, hideously decorated with herd dogs and horses, moaned.
“Beware the ectoplasm!” said Madame Myrna.
“Ecto…?” said Victor, ducking. Something squelched.
“From the spirit world,” intoned Myrna, “speaking to us from the Great Beyond.”
“What effect will that have on my record?” asked Victor.
“I see points,” said Myrna. “Or wait. I see a hand passing something underneath a table.”
Victor wiped his forehead and reached for his wallet.
"Too proud for the clown one, dear?" asked Myrna.
Stupid traffic school, thought Victor.
“I abhor Severus,” she announces.
“Keep reading,” I urge.
She returns to the books, gets her friends to read, ignites spirited debates about the potions master. They should be doing homework, but no parent scolds. Let history dog them after Katie’s gone.
They witness war. Mourn casualties. Watch Katie taken by a too-real spell of sickness.
It’s a struggle at the end. I read to her, the books too heavy now. She makes her dad proud when we reach the final line.
“You were right,” she says. “He’s good.”
She drifts off, dreaming of that King’s Cross platform.
The string of horses barely covered the dirt road while Chubbo, the fat camp van, crawled behind them.
“To the right!” the camp counselor yelled.
I tried herding my horse, but he gave a derisive snort that said, “Uh, yeah. You want what now?” The proud git wouldn’t get, even when the bumbling motor breathed on his tail. Obstinate, he walked backward, and slammed his rump into Chubbo. BAM.
With a spirited jump, he ran into the bushes, munching on some comfort greenery while screams reverberated behind spidered glass. At least the dogged horse moved, I suppose.
My heart leaped when I saw she had posted the contest results.
"To the so-called author who posted a letter: Yes, it’s a story, and I suppose you’re proud of yourself, thinking your offbeat entry would capture the spirit of the contest. But I have news for you: You came off more like a horse’s patoot than a top dog who could shepherd a new trend in writing contests. You didn’t impress this toothy agent who currently has your query. And don’t enter another one of my contests. I’m watching you, and I bite."
I hung my head in shame.
Mary’s freshman year started with an unforgettable nickname.—
Bloody Mary had forgotten her dear aunt’s visit.
Bloody Mary had wandered the halls in tears
until her sophomore year
when Bloody Mary became Proud Mary.
Proud Mary burned through her on-court opponents like a riverboat.
Proud Mary sang along with the cheers.
Then Proud Mary lost her pride to Mary-go-round.
Mary-go-round had no horses on which she could escape the calls of ‘dog’.
All the juniors said Mary-go-round begged for it.
Soon Mary-go-round’s spirit faded…
And she became Mary, Beloved Daughter.
I’ve never been prouder of you.
Edward refolded the letter along its worn creases and tucked it into the envelope’s remains, the glue on the flaps long dried and brittle.
Each reading herded memories of the outside, of freedom, of what was, across his ten-by-six cell wall. The past circled around and around like carousel horses, stagnant images in repetitive motion.
The truth dogged him, haunted him. Was it better she never knew?
He held the envelope to his lips, kissed it then whispered, “May your spirit rest in peace, Momma.”
Beardie: horsey face, shaggy hair, dog tags round his neck.
On good days, I give a dollar.
God bless, Sir.
Friday: usual herd of humans filing past, Beardie face down.
Does no one see? I touch his shoulder. Track marks, no breath. Spirit leaving.
Chest compressions. Call 911!
Sirens. Narcan, EMT shouts.
Bam! Into muscle. Beardie’s head jerks up, paramedics scatter. Beardie screaming, cursing paramedics by name.
I post proudly, Saved a man’s life today.
Monday: Beardie, usual spot. God bless, Sir.
No life saved yet.
I give ten bucks, then my hand. “I’m Michael. Want some breakfast?”
He crouches, flexing a proud herd of wild running horses across dark brown forearms. “A tatuaje for a espiritu fuerte” she coos in his memories, lying next to him on rumpled sheets.
He paused, wishing for a cigarette, his barrio, and her.
The truck stops. Men, hired daily from store parking lots, leap off like urgent salmon swimming upstream; time to prove themselves.
The horses stop too. He lands, feet touching hard baked clay under a cloudless Arizona sky; time to build another subdivision they’ll never live in.
He thinks he should have tatuado a pack of dogs instead.
“Come on, Spirit! Come, proud Spirit!”
Two knocks on the underside of the table.
“Doggum! He might really be here!”
“Might be a whole herd a’ghosties! Grandpa, you there?”
A shush from the figure with the horse-hair wig and crystal ball. A hand held, palm out. “Ten dollars to continue.”
Wrinkled dollars pass to the wrinkled palm and the wig falls across her face. Two knocks.
“Dangit, whose there?”
Low voice, wig rustling. “Udder.”
“Udder?” His mind reels, casting far. “Udder who?”
“Utter nonsense.” Wig tossed on the table, and the flap of untied laces the night.
Cole pushed through the saloon doors, slapping dust off his chaps. "Hoo-ee these dogs are tired."
The bartender frowned, her dark eyes sympathetic. "Horse come up lame?"
"Yep, 'bout a mile out. Would purely appreciate a shot of whiskey."
"You know I don't sell hard spirits on Sunday."
"And you know I ain't too proud to beg."
Angry voices rose, chairs scraped, a poker game turning ugly.
Cole spun, guns filling both hands. "Take it outside, boys."
She watched them leave, set a shot glass on the bar. "You staying this time?"
He smiled. "Until the next gold shipment, darlin'."
Her dragon flew a horseshoe pattern. That meant Father would come soon. He was so very proud of her, his pretty daughter. Once free-spirited, now compliant.
Amy held out her hand and Dogon swooped in to land, claws prickly against her palm.
"I can't take this anymore," Amy whispered, looking at the xacto knife before her.
"That is precisely how your mother felt," the dragon said in his rumbly little voice. "She grieved." He nudged the xacto knife. "I urge you to hate instead."
Amy took the knife, its blade protruding from between finger and thumb.
Hello again, my dear. Remember me?
Of course you do. We know each other so well.
You were always the one who rode in on a white horse to save the day. Not do-gooder, but warrior. The tearful thanks of somebody's mother didn't boost your spirits. The victory itself made you proud. Victory over me.
Now the sharp knife and the poison drip are no more useful than the mother's kiss. With these weapons you stopped me again and again, but not this time. Not when the shape on the iron bed is your own.
This time, you are mine.
Subj: Interested in a clean race?
Welcome. You seem like excellent competition. Let's make Kansas proud.
John Shepherd, Governor
Mr. Shepherd, thank you. Would you host a veterans' benefit at Red Horse with me next month? Could reach a lot more people.
Ellen Larkin, Democratic Candidate for Governor
John, can we change lunch to the Dogsbody? No spirits this week--my staff made fun of me!
Ellen, amazing win. I've learned a lot from you.
You know, I'd make an excellent First Gent, if you'll have me.
Bagpipes squeal. Drums beat. Competing scents: popcorn, peanuts, hotdogs, horseshit. The spirited roar of revving engines. Vintage engines.
I march proudly, head high, waving at the crowds lining the street. Ahead of me, soldiers in crisp uniforms march in unison, each movement as starched as their shirt collars.
A dog barks. Loud. Then louder. Shooting under a barrier and racing for the street. Brakes squeal. Glass shatters. Metal twists. Once. Twice. Three times.
The soldiers falter, formation scrambling as they stumble onto the wreckage of Mr. Carmichael’s five mint-condition Mustangs.
I join the herd street-side before I whistle.
Four stay-overs and no tips. The horse-faced lady in 211 could have left a buck or five. But no, she herded Ruth into the room and sailed out to the wineries spiriting her dog in a Louis Vuitton handbag and leaving a big, fat nothing on the bedside table.
Ruth was proud of the job she did. She made up the bed, hung clean, white towels on the rung, ran the vacuum in straight lines, and rinsed the drinking glass in the toilet.
All for ten dollars and forty-three cents an hour. A bargain. Right?
“You’ve had widows at your door ever since Grandma died,” said Charlie.
“Yeah, I’m all they talk about down at the horseshoe pit.” Gramps sighed. “What is it this time?”
“Another pie.” He held it out for inspection. “Cherry, I think.”
“Minnie Barlow. Third pie this month. Bet she’s proud of herself.”
Charlie laughed. “So what if she’s spirited? You should ask her out. She’s probably tired of talking to her dogs.”
“What she wants is someone to help spend her millions. Honestly, Charlie, can you see me doing that?” Gramps lowered his newspaper and found the room empty. “Charlie?”
The last thing they found was her phone. Eight days later, a kid walking his dog. Hundred yards from the site.
She was new behind the wheel, six cylinders and 350 horses supplying more power than she’d understood. More than the curve could handle.
Mama, proud and brave, herded the family close. Four other children, but none like her Roxie. A spirited girl, two months shy of becoming the first to attend college.
Following the funeral, the sheriff delivered the phone. “One last item,” he’d said. Only it wasn’t. Mama found the last item. A text. “Be home in t
“Melina, are you emotional?” Taynu asks. “But you abhor sentimentality. And I’m only meeting your mother.” Melina leads Taynu, her betrothed, to where cranberries float silver in the moonlight.
“Melina, are you scared? But you are spirited. And the Witch of the Bog is a myth.” Melina frowns.
There’s a rustle behind, and Taynu spins to face the bared teeth of a wild dog. He unsheathes his dagger by instinct, puts it down by conscious intent. The dog sniffs his hand then vanishes into the shadows.
“She is proud,” Melina says, “and I am her daughter. You passed, my love.”
He’s in his usual spot, conjuring Jack Daniels’ spirit from the bottom of a shot glass.
“Photos and address?”
He slides me an envelope and I palm him five hundreds.
“None of my biz but . . . never seen a runaway hide out in a backwoods horse farm before.”
“Sure is pretty. Proud papa I’d be. With her dimples and that blonde – ” He eyes my coal-black hair.
“She favors her late mother.”
But I’m too busy planning a homecoming to respond. First, the pet shop. Shock dog collar. Next, the hardware store for reinforced locks.
“Hello, I’m Dick.”
“Hi Dick, I’m Lisa. Divorced long?”
“Nah, just separated.”
“What the hell? You know speed dating implies you’re available”
“I am available, she’s not coming back.”
“She’s that proud…huh? What did you do?”
“Nothing. It was her decision to constantly travel for work, bound to happen I guess.”
“Ain’t that a female dog, riding two horses at once huh?”
“What? No, not that. Sure, I’m dispirited, but I can’t just wait around.”
“Did she at least send you a Dear John letter?”
“Nope, but the airline sent me a nice Dear Saint Peter letter.”
“Times up, dick!”
“Thank you for coming in. Please take a seat.
I’m concerned about your son. He’s been forging notes again. Take the notes from this week as examples:
Dere Teecher, Donnys dog et his homewrk.
Dere Teecher, Donny has a horse voice. He cant do his speech.
Dere Teecher, Donny herd rong. He thort you said go home. Not go to home room.
I’m sure you’re proud of your son, but with that sort of spirit it is with deep regret, Mrs Trump, I predict he’ll be a politician one day.”
Swim or die
"Poodles are water dogs! Jump!"
Land...swimming horse...grab dog...grab mane...thankyoujesus wet sand...
Spirited toward thatched hut by - a herd of monkeys?
Proud mastiff carries Floofydog.
She doesn't mind.
Handsome dude runs toward me.
"Cut! That's not her."
Who's the dude with the camera?
"You're not an actress?" Hunkalicious asks.
Suddenly I want to be.
"She hopped the last ferry," Cameraguy says.
"Great footage," Director says.
I look like hell.
"Wanna be in a movie? One-day shoot. Romantic short for Sundance."
Yes. Oh yes.
It’s 7pm and mom and dad are drunk. Again.
I hate living like this. I want to be a proud kid, full of spirit. Not stuck in this prison that only looks like a family home. Time to leave. Just my dog, little sister Maggie, and me. Mom and dad are upstairs. Screaming, stomping, they sound like a herd of horses. What now? Is she hitting him or is he hitting her?
What difference does it make? I can’t leave now. I’m not old enough. How will I eat? How will I feed Maggie? I don’t have enough guts. Crap.
"Protect me, Espíritu Santo ." Miguel made the sign of the cross, then grabbed his muleta and estoque. It was time.
In the middle of the ring, proud, he waved his montera in a wide circle. The crowd cheered.
Protect me, Saint-Francis, this wasn't my choice.
He was herded to the gate, the underdog. It opened. He charged knowing his life depended on it. The picadors on horses began the torture until the sword entered his body. He lifted his eyes toward heaven.
Miguel felt the horn pierce his side.
A mélange of blood.
Only one winner.
Today there were none.
Remy jumped while he worked on a 200-horsepower motor that had hauled them 6 miles out into Lake Michigan. The boat, Proud Mary, drifted another half-mile before he noticed she was gone.
He radioed the distress call: “Dog Overboard” and fishermen from every direction came to herd the waters. But at sunset, the Coast Guard called it: May her spirit rest in peace.
But a woman on a boat put the story on Facebook. It went viral, downstate and upstate. By dawn, someone spotted her swimming a half-mile from shore. By Tuesday, she was on the Today Show.
“Cat,” he says. “Horse.”
The angel scribes carefully; smiles. “Last one.”
The man gazes at the creature. “Dog.” The angel scribes, nods; then disappears into the spirit realm.
The Master inclines his head. Ancient eyes close; the man falls asleep.
Later, he wakes; a woman beside him, clothed in purity. “Eve,” whispers the man, eyes wide, marveling. “My own.”
I smirk. This’ll be easy.
Later still, she explores the garden, head erect; her desire to please ripe for the plucking.
I slither over; make my move.
Offended, proud, she seeks to best me in a match of wills.
After nearly six weeks adrift, morale had reached a low. The captain's son suggested entertainment.
“Stop me if you've herd this one before… Get it?”
“Why did the pony whisper? Because he was a little horse.”
“What did the mama lion say to her cubs? I'm proud of you kids. I mean pride of you.”
“This routine is going to the dogs.” The dachshunds were not amused. Only the hyenas were laughing. For the wrong reasons.
“That's the spirit,” Michael said, eying their toothy grins. Thus fell the curtain on the first and only open Mike night on Noah's Ark.
A house-proud recluse named O’Grady
Got engaged to a widow called Sadie.
But he couldn’t remember -
Wedding: March... or September?
(She’s a rather dispirited lady.)
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