Prompt: the smell of autumn
After the last of the crops are harvested, they burn the fields. Old vines, dry stalks: all the debris and detritus of the previous year’s planting set alight, ashes to ashes, and dust back into dirt, to make way for next year’s crops.
“Fire cleanses,” my mama said when I asked her why. “It’ll burn up the bugs and the disease, and leave nothin’ behind but good, clean ashes, and the ashes is good for the soil.”
We stand in a line, all the children, watching the yellow-orange tongues of flame lick at the dark night sky. It sounds like someone crumpling up newspapers. I turn to say that to Liddy, but she doesn’t listen: she’s just starin’ at the flames, mesmerized. And she ain’t the only one: the whole line of kids is just standin’ there starin’ at that fire, not makin’ a sound or movin’ a muscle. For a time, I just watch the flames dance in the dark center of their eyes.
It’s so dark, I can’t see the smoke, but I can smell it: thick and dangerous, crawlin’ over my skin and makin’ my eyes water. Mama made us sweets, fried dough dipped in honey; the sugar drips down my fingers. Ash floats through the air like snowflakes and sticks to my honey-coated arms. When I wipe my eyes, streaming from the smoke, it leaves a black, sticky smudge like grease across my face.
Smoke is a smell that gets into you: into the hairs on your head and up your nostrils. I can taste it in the back of my throat when I’m trying to sleep that night. I can smell it in my dreams.
I open my eyes in the morning, and it’s still there: thick and cloudy, like a fog hangin’ ‘round my bedroom. I wonder if those fields didn’t burn all night, but when I go down to the kitchen, I see it’s just mama: she’s burned the breakfast. She’s standin’ over the by the sink, crying over a burned-black pan of bacon.
The doctor sent word to her that morning: it seems my granny ain’t gonna last the winter.
She must’ve cried all her tears up, that night that Jessa died–poured ‘em all straight outta her, in one great saltwater flood that left a faint, dirty outline on her pillowcase when it dried. She cried so hard, her mouth went dry: tongue thick and swollen, no moisture left to wet her raw, parched lips that could not stop calling out Jessa’s name. She cried so hard, her eyes felt full of sand. So cried so hard, her head ached. In that one night, she must have cried out all the tears God gave her to last the rest of her life.
That must be why, standin’ here over his body, staring blankly at the hand that still held the gun, her knuckle white where it still squeezed the trigger, her bare feet wet in a warm, widening puddle–that must be why her face is dry.
“What Gets Left Behind”
format: 100 word drabble
Every other time, there had been something left behind, something important: her diary, her laptop, or the charger for her phone; a sign she’d packed in haste, she hadn’t thought this through; she’d return before the week was over. A day would pass, or two, and then the familiar sound of her key turning in the latch.
Alice had walked through the apartment, but she could see none of the telltale signs: no laptop, no diary, no charger. Just the sound of the bolt in the door sliding home, then the flash of a silver key slid under the door.
Delicate paper fans beat like butterfly wings around the crowded room, gently stirring the still, moist air. Sunday afternoon in August, and there was no air conditioning to speak of. Someone had mentioned taking up a collection, but the church was saving to send bibles and medicine to the heathen babies in Africa, and no cent could be spared for earthly comforts. “Offer your suffering up to Jesus!” my mama hissed when I whined in her ear.
Alabama heat lends itself beautifully to talk of fire and brimstone, and the pastor was fired up. The church ladies, too old to sweat, egged him on, calling “Hallelujah!” and “Amen!” while the young people silently willed themselves closer to the room’s one open door.
Two hours now, and no sign of stopping. Restless bodies squirmed against the sticky wooden pews, the old wood groaning and adding to the church ladies’ chorus. My older cousin, Miriel, stood up and began to speak in tongues. She was always the first, and soon others followed, moved by the Spirit. Their chattering voices crowded round me, and the room felt smaller.
One fat bead of sweat crawled slowly down my back. By the time it reached the waistband of my cotton underwear I was standing on my feet, all eyes in the church turned toward me.
“Sister Cally, do you feel the Spirit?” Instead, I felt the world go sideways, sliding down past me in a rush of black velvet and fireworks.
When I opened my eyes, I was lying in the shade of the big oak tree out in the churchyard, my papa leaning over me, smiling and pressing a glass of water to my lips.
The Lord works in mysterious ways.
“Run Rabbit Run”
Prompt: photo of a river
He’s never learned to walk in the woods.
I can hear him behind me, snapping branches and cursing loudly every time he trips over a root or snags his coat on a bramble. While I weave my way through the trees, stepping into the open spaces between vines, he plows along behind me, crushing and kicking at any obstacle in his path, too used to sidewalks and straight lines to realize that in the forest, sometimes the shortest distance between two points is a serpentine.
When we met, he said he liked hiking. When he showed up at my door in expensive running shoes and a brand new jacket, I realized we weren’t talking about the same thing.
Despite the rising cacophony of protests at my back, I press on, pausing now and again to wait for him to catch me up–I apologize, urge him on: “Not much farther. It’s just up here, I promise”. None too soon, we’re breaking through the trees and into the foggy gray twilight of an early spring evening. Just a short stretch of field grass, and then the river itself, little more than a creek here, burbling through the grass in a lazy trickle.
Out of the trees and able to see about himself, his confidence returns: he smiles at me, and I remember why I wanted to bring him here. I start to tell him about the river and the little crayfish we used to catch when I was a girl. I show him the tree where we had our fort, and the cluster of rocks across the shallow bend that we used to use as a bridge.
At first, I’m too caught up in my own memories to notice if he’s listening or not, but it doesn’t take long to realize he isn’t. Instead of looking me in the eyes, he’s watching my mouth, waiting for it to stop moving so he can lean in and kiss me during the first awkward pause.
I keep on talking, telling him the names of all my cousins and every single frog we caught the summer I was nine. It’s become a game, keeping up this ceaseless string of chatter, and I dig down deep into the well of my memories to pull up a recipe for crayfish stew and an anecdote about skinny dipping with the neighbor boys and coming home with a leech on my behind.
He’s getting frustrated, huffing quietly, not really watching me anymore, but shooting little exasperated glances my way. I come up for air, and that’s all the in he needs to start arguing, not about my stories or about him wanting to kiss me, but about the chill in the air and the damp creeping into those stupid, impractical shoes he wore. He storms off, pretending that he will leave me behind, but it’s a ridiculous bluff: he’s heading in the wrong direction. By the time he realizes, I’ve got all the head start I need.
I run through the trees like a rabbit, ducking branches and hopping over rotting logs. I can hear him shout behind me but I don’t turn back. I don’t feel guilty about leaving him: head off in a straight line in any direction and you’ll come across a road in no more than a mile or so. He knows what to do with a road.
As for me, I know my way through the woods.
“El Pollo Diablo”
bonus points: make your entry exactly 100 words and all one sentence.
Picture this: a soft, quiet rumble that gradually builds in force until it bursts across the horizon in a tremendous, rolling wave of molten hot lava—and villagers are screaming and trees are bursting into flames—and the air is thick with heat, and all the while the sun is still beating down in vicious, stabbing rays of ultra-violet radiation that turn the welcome flood of liquid water relief into a boiling mass of white-hot steam, obscuring your vision even though you couldn’t see through the pain anyway, and I swear to you: the heat guide on the menu said ‘MILD’!!