My writings

The Ghost of Hashers Past – a short story challenge

Last week, I asked readers to challenge me with a writing prompt, and I picked a winner at random.  I started writing the story this morning, with a promised post date of midnight (my time) tonight.  Here is the story:

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Hashing: participating in an event, usually a run, held by the Hash House Harriers, an international social and non-competitive running group.

Hasher: a member of the Hash House Harriers.

RU?

RU?

A coyote yelp would have shattered the silence of the East Texas woods, except the forest hadn’t had much silence since the hashers arrived yesterday. Now, twenty four hours into their camping weekend, the hashers were in full swing, talking, laughing, catching up with old friends, meeting new ones. Music blasted from the sound system set up under the pavilion, drowning out the metallic banging coming from the kitchen as volunteers cleaned up after the evening meal.

There were more than twenty tents pitched in the open field in front of the pavilion, and a few more were scattered at the base of pine trees along the edge of the woods. A bonfire roared in the middle of the field, flames reaching ten feet into the air. As night settled around the campsite, the temperature dropped, and hashers congregated around the fire to ward off the damp evening chill.

Two men carried one of the many kegs closer to the fire, so no one had to walk too far to get more beer. Because that was a big part of what this weekend was about – beer. Beer was the holy water of this group, the sacramental liquid they were devoted to, the reason they were here. It served as their nourishment, their societal reward and retribution, their ceremonial Eucharist. If hashing was a religion, beer would be the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

After several rounds of folk songs and drinking games, one hasher spoke up. “How about a ghost story?” The group freshened their beers and sat back to listen.

Once, years ago, a hasher named No Diddley got lost in these very woods during a midnight trail run. The next day, someone noticed he was gone, and they went out into the woods, looking for him. They followed the same trail they had taken the night before, calling his name, listening for his return of “on-on.” But they didn’t find him.

That evening, another hasher disappeared, and this time, when they went looking for him, they found a trail of beer cans leading to his broken and bruised body.

The next year, the hashers lost another of their brethren in these woods, and another the next year, and another the following year. All told, eight hashers have died in these woods, each with a trail of beer cans leading to their body.

Now, some say it was coyotes, or a bear, but I think it was the Ghost of old No Diddley, looking for more beer. He roams the forest still, searching for his brew, killing anyone who gets in his way.

“That’s it?” Tongue War asked. “Dude, that was the lamest ghost story ever. Down-down!” he shouted, demanding punishment. A chorus of “down-down” started around the fire, and the storyteller was made to chug a beer. It was something he did with pleasure, so as a punishment, it didn’t hold much weight.

It was nearly midnight, but no one was ready for bed. Someone suggested a moonlight hash, and Backseat Driver volunteered to live hare. He filled a backpack with beer, grabbed a bag of flour to mark the trail, and took off, a trail of white leading into the woods. The rest of the hashers gathered in a circle and sang a couple of warm up songs, giving Backseat Driver a fifteen minute head start. Then they headed out, following the trail of flour. They followed the marks for a mile, then ran into trouble finding the next mark. They broke up into smaller groups, fanning out, whistles in hand, listening for the tell-tale “on-on” when someone found the trail again.

There was a metallic rattle as That’s All Folks F*ck You stumbled and fell to one knee. She held up a beer can and shook it. “Looks like Backseat got thirsty.”

Puss’n Boots held out a hand to help Taffy up. “It’s not like Backseat to litter, though. I’m sure some redneck tossed it in the woods last week.”

“But it’s Backseat’s favorite beer,” Taffy pointed out. She looked closer. “He didn’t even open it, he ripped a hole in it.”

Tongue War took the can from her and looked at the ragged gash. “Looks like a wild animal did it.” He glanced behind him and ducked his head. “Maybe,” he whispered, “it’s the ghost of No Diddley.”

Taffy backhanded him in the chest and rolled her eyes at Puss. “You are such a jackass, Tongue.”

Tongue cackled. “Come on, let’s head back to camp. I don’t think anyone’s going to find the trail. Backseat’s gonna have a down-down for this, for sure.”

They made their way through the dark forest, searching for the last white pile they had found, then followed the trail backwards to camp.

Tongue War unzipped Taffy’s tent and poked his head in. “Come on, get up. Backseat never came back to camp last night. We’re organizing a search party.”

Taffy pulled on a pair of pants and a sweatshirt and stumbled out of her tent. Most of the other hashers were just as out of it as she was, from the looks of it. Puss’n Boots was bent over a trashcan, throwing up, and several people had their head in their hands, rubbing their temples. Taffy grabbed a plastic cup and poured herself a Bloody Mary.

“So what’s the plan?” she asked Tongue.

Tongue turned the sound system on and spoke into the microphone. The feedback made everyone grab their heads and swear, but Tongue ignored them. “We’re going to follow the trail Backseat laid last night and then fan out from where it ends. Keep the person next to you in sight at all times. If the circle gets too wide to keep each other in sight and we haven’t found him, we’ll head back to camp and call the cops.”

They set out on the trail, and at the end of it fanned out as instructed. They called his name, both his hash name and his given name, Chris. Taffy spent as much time making sure she could still see the other hashers as she did looking for Backseat. She could barely see Tongue through the foliage. “Tongue, I think it’s time to turn back,” she called.

Tongue stumbled and bent down. “I found another beer can,” he called back to her. “Same as the one last night, gash in the side.” He stood and looked around. “It looks like there’s a cave or something down here, I’m just going to go check it out.”

“Tongue, wait!” Taffy called, but he disappeared. She blew her whistle to summon the other hashers and walked toward the spot she had last seen Tongue. She waived to Puss’n Boots and gestured down the hill. “Tongue found another beer can and went to check out the cave,” she yelled. She started down the steep slope, planting her foot sideways and leaning into the hill, trying not to slip.

When she reached the bottom she looked up. Puss stood at the top, ready to come down after her. “Stay up there, no use both of us being down there,” Taffy said. “I’ll be right back.” She ignored the vines that brushed her legs and walked to the cave, peering in. “Tongue?”

A shadow moved along the wall to the right. She looked, but saw nothing. She stepped inside the cave and called again. “Tongue? Did you find anything?” A scuffle of movement to her left drew her attention, and she took another step. She could just make out the form of a man, huddled on the ground. “Backseat?” She took another step. Her foot connected with a lightweight object, sending it tumbling toward the man. She looked down.

A beer can.

She squinted into the darkness. “Tongue, is that you?”

The growl from behind startled her. She turned. Her eyes widened. She opened her mouth to scream.

Puss’n Boots pointed down the hill to the cave. “She went in there. She said that’s where Tongue went.”

Five hashers made their way down the steep incline and started toward the cave. An empty beer can rolled out, causing them to pause. They studied the gash in the can. The sharp edges of aluminum glinted like teeth.

From the top of the hill, Puss’n Boots screamed and pointed. Taffy lay in the mouth of the cave, staring back at them. He limbs hung loosely, as if pulled from their joints. A gash marred her face, the edges resembling those on the empty beer can.

They found Tongue War inside the cave, crouched next to a pile of empty beer cans.  A gash across his throat pointed to cause of death.

No one saw Backstreet Driver again, but legend has it, he roams the woods of East Texas, still looking for his favorite beer.

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Thanks, Mary, for the suggestion!  Genre – Horror; Subject – camping; character assignment – a hasher.   The minute I saw your challenge, I knew it would have to involve beer!  😀  Hope you enjoy it!

To everyone not familiar with the world of hashing, I’d like to explain a few things.  Everyone gets a nickname, or hash name, and it often has a sexual connotation of some sort.  All names used in this story are completely made up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they existed.  Names are often shortened to one word or an acronym.  I hope the naming conventions in the story weren’t too confusing (and I tried to keep them somewhat SFW).  Also, I do not write horror, so this was a first for me.  It’s no Stephen King, certainly, but I did my best.  

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Challenge Me – Short Story Challenge

I just found out about this cool writing contest where participants are given a writing prompt and have 24 hours to write a short story.  Alas, I missed the deadline.  So I decided to do it anyway!  And you can help.

Leave a comment with a writing prompt.  You need to include a genre, a subject, and a character assignment (example:  horror, travel, a dentist; see more examples here.).  I will pick a comment at random and write a short story using that writing prompt.

Don’t torture me, please!  😀

I’m going on a weekend trip, so you have until midnight your time on Monday (February 25th) to leave a writing prompt.  I will choose the winner on Tuesday, and write the story on Wednesday.  It will be posted by midnight my time on Wednesday.

Can’t wait to see what you guys come up with!

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“existence” – a one word writing practice

“I’m ready for my existence to come to an end.  I’ve lived enough lives, enough lifetimes, to fill a book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.  My tales are more gruesome.

“When this all began, when I first realized what was happening, I thought it might last another century, two at the most.  It’s been twenty.  Over 2000 years of falling victim to the same fate, over and over again.”  She laughed, shook her head.  “I’m exhausted.”  She looked up at him.  “And you are, too.  You just don’t know it.”

“I’m tired of this life.  That’s enough for me.  My tales aren’t pretty, either.”

“Yes, but yours are beyond your control.”  She looked away, gazed across the treetops.  “In fact, your tales are my fault.  Everything bad that has ever happened to you, happened because of me.”

“You aren’t responsible for everything.  Becca, LJ, they weren’t your fault.”

She looked back at him, her eyebrow raised.  “Weren’t they?  How do you know?  What if they died because of me?  Would you be able to forgive that?  Would you be able to forgive me?”

He was unable to hold her gaze, and she had her answer.

**oneword gives you a word, and sixty seconds to write whatever pops into your head.  Obviously, I didn’t write all this in sixty seconds, but I like to expand what I start with, and this happened to work with my current WIP.  

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I don’t need that word…or that one…or that one…

Is it really writing, if you’re taking something that’s already written and crossing words out?  Well, there’s still an element of creativity to it, and it gets you outside of your brain, so…yes!

I got this writing prompt idea from Storytelling Nomad, a “blackout” writing exercise in which you take a piece of writing (your own, someone else’s) and you cross out words to create a new piece.

Pretty fingerprints color the small, thick kid.  Being weird as an adult would be a problem.  No one dreams of a worse mission – an experiment to see if a drug cures dangerous interest Yes, it seems lame to appreciate things, but a career stuck not trying might end with a battle against human foibles such as reading and angering birds.  The world has become crazy, the response to go to war, dragging friends into adventure.  Curiosity isn’t the answer anymore, but we need to take chances exploring fantastic worlds most of us can’t even imagine.

Still not sure if it’s incredibly profound or incredibly incoherent…

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55 word microfiction – Wednesday Writing

I found out about 55 Fiction from Metafilter.  “55 Fiction is a form or microfiction with a few rules, including a limitation to 55 words.”  There are a couple of websites with the name, although apparently unrelated to the original 55 word contest. 

I thought, what the heck, could be fun:

The frigid office is a shocking contrast to the jungle outside.  The hairs on my legs stand up and grow faster.

“Please, can we turn it up, just three degrees?”  68 sounded temperate.

“No can do, pretty lady.  We turn the temp up, the jungle comes inside.”

I look down at my legs.  “Too late.”

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Vicariously, I Live (Fiction)

The pages crackle with each turn, the paper brittle from years in the dry air.  Although I knew the words by heart, I loved reading each story again.  The words, written in shaky print here, flowing cursive there, childlike block letters in yet another place, conveyed life in a way my mind can’t really know.

My mother’s words, written in beautiful cursive, flow over the page in a wash of grief.  “You will never know the music I’ve heard coming from the courtyard below,” she writes.  “The guitar sounds fluttered up like butterflies, its wings tickling your ears only briefly before flitting away again.  Your father and I used to dance to that music, here in the kitchen, imagining we were in a square in Argentina….”

Yes, mother was heartbroken at the end.  Of course she was.  She had already lost her husband, her youngest son, and her daughter, not to mention nearly all her friends.  The only reason she and my grandfather lasted so long was because of me.

This story here, the one with the shaky print, was written by my grandfather.  His acceptance of the fate of the world isn’t tinged with the despair evident in my mother’s stories.  “Good luck, kid,” my grandfather writes, his words pressed so thick and deep into the page I can feel the impression on the back side.  “You just got to survive.  Reminds me of the time my buddy Mac and me were in the jungle, hiding from Charlie.  Neither one of us knew what to do, we just knew we had to do it.  Boy, but you shoulda seen the colors in that jungle!  So much green I started to hate the color, but there were pinks and reds and sometimes a white streak to remind you something else existed.”

I laid the book back on its pillow and reached for the picture book on the ground.  Flipping through the pages, I wondered if any of these flowers were ones my grandfather had seen.  A flash of purple caught my eye, and I thumbed back a page.  I had seen this flower before, the pinkish violet, the petals open like a butterfly, flowing down like a waterfall.  My eyes dropped to the bottom of the page.  Phalaenopsis (Moth Orchid.)  I ran my finger over the petals, wondering if they felt as smooth and cool to the touch as the glossy page.

I placed the book back on the floor, the page turned to the Phalaenopsis.  In my mind, I surrounded the Phalaenopsis with green, like my grandfather said.  Is this what he saw?

I picked the book up off the pillow and turned the page.  This story was my favorite.

“I kicked the ball today and didn’t miss!  My toe hurts a little, but don’t tell mom, she might make me stop, and I don’t want to stop.  Coach gave me a high five and told me I was going to be a good forward some day.  Then Stinky Stevie threw water on me.  He said it was a way of saying good job, but if so, why didn’t he just say it?”

My baby brother, so grown up at 8, would never see 9.  He died a year ago.  Mother died last month.  Grandpa died last week.

I looked around the room, the plastic-sealed windows letting in opaque light, the layered sheets of heavy plastic hanging at the door, blocking any air particles that might come in.  Mother had talked about the music from the courtyard, how I would never hear it, because the musicians were all dead.  But I had never seen the courtyard, either.  The picture in my head was as imaginary as the picture I had of grandpa’s jungle, based on picture books and the words of my family, just like what I thought of when I thought of butterflies, and waterfalls, and soccer.  But I had seen that flower, the Phalaenopsis, through a part in the plastic sheeting one day.  It was real.  I knew it.

“Stay in here as long as you can,” grandpa said as he piled cans along the wall.  “The plastic is the reason you’re still alive.  Hell, it’s the reason any of us lasted as long as we did, because we had to be so clean to get in here to see you.  You ain’t never been exposed to anything in here, and as long as you stay in here, you never will be.”

This bubble has kept me alive, but it prevented me from ever living except through the stories of my family.  I had never been exposed to anything.

I closed the brittle pages and stood.  I was ready to live, if only for a moment.

I parted the plastic curtain and saw it.  The Phalaenopsis.  Still in bloom. 

Four steps.  Four steps, and I would be able to feel it.

I charged the Beau with giving me a writing prompt today.  I told him to pick a song lyric, preferably to a song I didn’t know.  He gave me this:  “Vicariously, I live while the whole world dies / You all need it too, don’t lie.”  It’s from a Tool song – I’m not a huge Tool fan, so I can’t tell you which song. 

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The Closing Door – Fiction

Writing prompt:  write about a closing door

The door swooshed as it was pushed open, the air migrating from one side to the other.  She felt the fine hair at her temples move, blown by the breeze, and the tickling sensation gave her a chill.  She was cold, unfeeling.  Isn’t that what he said?  He was wrong, so wrong.  She was hot, on the verge of sweating, the moisture gathering above her upper lip and under her arms, making her armpit stick as she raised a hand to brush the hair back off her forehead.  And unfeeling?  She felt everything, every nerve fiber vibrating with the pain of longing, of loss.  The acuteness of it made her want to scream, cry out, but she knew it was already too late.

She watched his hand leave the door, leaving a smudge on the glass.  How many times had she complained to him about having to clean handprints off the glass?  It must have been nearly sixty, since she complained about it almost daily.  No, wait.  Less than sixty, when you take into account weekends.  Two months, four weeks in a month, five days in a week, so forty.  Forty times he had heard her bitch about handprints on the door, and he couldn’t bother to use the handle as he left?

The hinges squeaked as the door started closing, the sound echoing through the room.  She needed to call maintenance to oil the hinges, had been meaning to do it for weeks now.  She had noticed that it rarely squeaked when it was opened, but always when it closed.  Probably because it was pushed open too fast, but the spring load at the top allowed it to shut slower so it wouldn’t slam, and the slowness stressed the hinges enough to squeak.  Or scream, she thought, the corners of her mouth turning up.  As if the door knew she couldn’t and was doing it for her.

Her smile drooped as the latch clicked against the door jam, moving inward.  The hammer being pulled on the gun.  She fought the urge to duck under her desk, knowing it wouldn’t really provide her any protection, because there was no tangible threat.  Nevertheless, she grasped the desk, waiting for the death blow.

The door thunked closed, echoing through her soul.  The significance of the sound, the finality of the moment, was not lost on her.  The door closing behind him, on their relationship, leaving her locked in here, cooped up, abandoned, left behind.

She stared through the glass, watched him push the elevator button, look at his watch, run his hand through his hair.  She saw the light come on, heard the ding of the elevator through the glass, watched the doors slide open.  He boarded without looking back.

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Ghost Town Funeral

Janet Reid, Literary Agent, posted an impromptu writing contest on her blog back in April.  I’m a little late to the game and missed the contest, but wanted to go ahead and take the challenge myself.

The challenge:  Write a story under 100 words with the following words:  junk, dignity, gunbelt, hungover, punch

Well, with a word like junk, my mind immediately went into the gutter…let’s see if I can follow it down (no pun intended), shall we?

Ghost Town Funeral

Wyatt Earp's Old Tombstone, an abandoned touri...

Image by mlhradio via Flickr

Waking up hungover, wearing nothing but a gunbelt, with somebody’s naked junk in your face is not the best way to start the day.  I’m sure my mom would agree.  My dad would probably punch the junk guy in the face, if he were around.  Which he’s not.

Which is why I’m here in the first place.

At least Dad was buried according to his final wishes, I reminded myself, collecting my panties and dignity off the sawdust scattered floor.

Note to self: never drink whisky at a Western ghost town funeral, especially when the barkeep is pouring your drinks.

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Chasing Rainbows – Fiction

(***This post was originally posted on Open Salon on March 18, 2011 as part of a Fiction Friday writing prompt.  Please see this post about my decision to migrate to WordPress…if you’re interested.***)

The phone rang, just as Cathy expected it to.  She shoved away from the windowsill and ran to the phone in the hallway.  “I got it!” she yelled to her mom.  “Hello?”

“Do you see it, Cathy?  Do you see the rainbow?”

“Yes!”  Cathy’s eyes were shining with excitement.  “It’s so pretty!  And I can see the end!”

“Me, too!  Tell your mom you’re coming to my house, and I’ll meet you at the playground.  Be sure to bring your bag, the one with the flowers on it.”

Cathy hung up and darted down the hallway to her room.  She grabbed the bag with the flowers and ran back down the hall to the dining room.  “Mom, I’m going over to Jillie’s house.”

Her mom looked up from the computer.  “Does Jillie’s mom know you’re coming over?”

Cathy nodded, shifting her weight from one foot to the other.

Her mom looked out the window into the back yard.  “Okay, be sure to wear a sweater.”

“Okay.”  Cathy turned and ran to the door, pulling a sweater off the low coat hook.

“And be home by five!” her mom called behind her.

Cathy let the screen door slam behind her and raced across the lawn.

Jillie was already at the playground when Cathy arrived, breathless.  “Come on, hurry!”

Hand in hand, they ran to the edge of the schoolyard and into the field behind it, their eyes glued to the rainbow arching over the sky just beyond the trees.  They reached the edge of the forest and Cathy stopped, tugging on Jillie’s hand.

“I don’t know, Jillie, do you think it’s safe?”  Her eyes, large and round with fear, gazed into the gloom of the forest, trying to see into the shadows.

Jillie tugged her hand.  “Yes, come on!  We’re going to miss it!”

Cathy let Jillie pull her into the woods.  She cast a glance behind them, back to the field.  She wanted to go back, but she didn’t want Jillie to think she was afraid.

A rustle of leaves to her right startled her, drawing her attention.  “What was that?”

“Probably a squirrel or something.  Come on!”  Jillie tugged on her hand again.

Cathy heard another rustle.  She searched the shadows, trying to pick out movement.  It’s just a squirrel, she told herself.

They were deep in the woods now, and Cathy couldn’t see a clearing anywhere.  “Shouldn’t we have gotten there by now?”

Jillie turned and let go of her hand, sighing and placing her hands on her hips.  “Listen, do you want to find the end of the rainbow, or not?  Because I can go alone.  If you’re scared, you can turn back and go home.”

“No, no, I’m not scared.  I just thought that maybe the rainbow will be gone by now, and we’ve missed it.”

“We haven’t missed it, now come on!”

Jillie turned and started running again.  Cathy hurried to keep up, wishing Jillie would take her hand again.  “Jillie, wait!”

Jillie turned her head.  “What?”

Jillie stumbled, tripping over a rock. Her arms wheeled as she tried to regain her balance, but she fell backwards with a thunk.

“Jillie!  Are you okay?”  Cathy knelt down and grabbed Jillie’s arm.  “Jillie.  Jillie?”

Cathy stared down into Jillie’s open eyes, wondering why she wasn’t answering.  “Jillie, stop playing, come on.  It’s getting dark, we need to go.”  Cathy stood and readjusted the bag with the flowers on it.  She crossed her arms and tapped her foot, waiting for Jillie to get tired of the game.  “Jillie, come on, this is boring.”  She took several steps and turned back, but Jillie was still lying there with her eyes open, not moving.

Cathy looked around.  She couldn’t remember what direction they had come from, and she didn’t see any trails or clearings anywhere.  She needed Jillie to lead her out.  “Jillie, please…”

She heard the leaves rustle to her left.  She turned slowly.

It wasn’t a squirrel.

© 2011, Sara Sligar. All rights reserved.

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Episodes – Fiction

(***This post was originally posted on Open Salon on March 4, 2011 as part of a Fiction Friday writing prompt.  Please see this post about my decision to migrate to WordPress…if you’re interested.***)


I watched my hand tremble, passing the bone china saucer, the teacup clattering on top.  She took it from me, gaze imperious, hands steady, and silence reigned again.  I sat, welcoming the cushions behind me, supporting me.  The drama of the night before had shaken my confidence, and although when we had first met we got along well, now I wasn’t so sure.

“The…episode last night was…accidental, I’m sure.  However,” she paused to sip her tea, “we must ensure it never happens again.  As you know, Bradley, though normally quite gregarious, needs time to himself to preserve his equilibrium.  You must make certain, in the future, that he gets that time, if you hope to continue a relationship with him.  Surely that is clear after last night.”

Struggling to maintain my own composure, I envied her solid bearing, her unflinching gaze, her unyielding demeanor.  She cared for her brother, I had known that all along, but I hadn’t realized she would go to such extremes to preserve his reputation, however false, as a dynamic gubernatorial candidate.

The “episode” last night had been more than Bradley simply needing solitude.  His despondent moods had been coming more and more frequently, destroying more than the plate glass window he had thrust his fist through last night.  The evidence of his past episodes had been easier to cover up, though, than the blood stain on the Persian rug and the trip to the emergency room last night.  Although the blood stain was unfortunate, it was the trip to the emergency room that had upset his sister and caused this visit.  Blood stains could be, if not cleaned, at least covered up.

She placed the saucer on the table and stood, smoothing the front of her skirt.  “I will take care of the reporters.  If you are approached, your answer should be ‘no comment.’  Is that clear?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“And that medication the doctor prescribed?”  She cast a stern glance in my direction.  “Do not allow him to take it.  Is that understood?”

I hated myself for bowing so easily to her will, but I knew there was no other answer.  “Yes, ma’am.”


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