prompt: peacock, puzzle, electric

If it hadn’t been for the photo on the front of the box, there’d be no way to tell the puzzle was supposed to be a large, colorful peacock. It’d been three hours and Ryland had finished the border, started filling in one corner, and the lightning continued in earnest outside the window. This wasn’t Ryland’s first hurricane, but it was the first since he’d moved out on his own. His first one alone. 

Like clockwork, his mind started to run down the mental list. There were enough batteries for his five flashlights, the shutters had covered the windows since the night before, and the food stores were stocked. Lightning flashed again and Ryland’s fingers clenched around the puzzle piece. The only reason there even was a peacock in the first was because his mother always did puzzles during hurricanes. With rain pounding on their roof, she’d declare them to be calming and time consuming. Once the electricity went, they were able to be done by candlelight or flashlight. 

Lightning struck again, overhead the electricity flickered and even with the puzzle, it was nothing like the storms he remembered growing up. Too quiet inside meant that everything that happened outside only sounded louder. He never felt more alone.

prompt: mountain, mustang, object

Out of the corner of her eye, Mary could see Frank’s smirk flickering every time she gripped the mustang’s leather seat cushion. He liked to see her gasp and squirm at things, like an object that amused him, or perhaps endeared him. As they drove twenty miles over the speed limit on a midafternoon mountain road, Mary couldn’t care less why he smirked. Instead, every time she saw it, it reaffirmed a conclusion she’d been entertaining for a year:

It was time to end thing with Frank. 

Their five years together, her second long term after–No. She wouldn’t think of Roger and everything she threw away. Not today, not right now, not with the determination finally fueling a fire in her veins. Thoughts of him, of her poor decisions…. No. She clenched her fist against the seat again. Right on cue, there was Frank’s smirk. 

As soon as they parked this car. It was over. 

prompt: holly, baboon, squeaky

The stroller tire squeaked with every turn and the sun screaming overhead only deepened Holly’s headache. They hadn’t even made it to the baboon sanctuary yet, and Sybil seemed more interested in sobbing than looking at the animals. 

“Sybil, please, remember how we were so excited to see the parakeets? Then the baboons! We talked about it all week.”

Sybil continued screeching louder than any of the birds in the aviary.

A couple next to them, with children more interested in their devices than what their parents were pointing at, sent a glare towards Sybil. Holly clenched her jaw; they were at the zoo for godsakes, not the movie theater.

Holly made the decision to roll her squeaky stroller right by them on their way to the baboons. If Sybil wouldn’t quiet, at least she’d be useful.  

prompt: ferry, candy, darkness

The wind hit Sandra’s face, a faint spray from the bay splashing across her cheek. She could sit inside the ferry’s cabin with her friends, but something about the cotton candy colored clouds and the sun setting into the horizon beckoned Sandra outside. 

They were running away. Her family–back on the island, already cast into the darkness of night–had no idea that when they woke they’d be missing a daughter. Her friends, as well, all of them, slipping off into the night. 

The wind rushed by Sandra’s ears, a whirl so loud it managed to push away her thoughts, the mild panic, the exhilarating freedom. On the other side of the bay, she would step foot into her new life. But for now, it was only her and the ferry, under the cotton candy colored clouds, escaping the darkness.

prompt: pizza, avalanche, purple

“Purple mountains majesties,” Phil sang, and the words spun and garbled in his mouth, and for some reason he felt compelled to twirl, even though he hadn’t done anything like that since he was a kid at the mercy of his older sister. “I wonder how Dawn is.”

“You alright?” George asked over his shoulder, and Phil nodded and the simple motion made him rock like a dinghy in the middle of a hurricane. George didn’t notice. George continued hiking the startlingly steep elevation, and what exactly was the altitude here, because he hadn’t sung America the Beautiful since Dawn lived at home either. He really should call her. 

The sun beat down on his head and his thoughts flowed as freely as his sweat. In the winter this mountain must get avalanches. Phil hummed at the mere thought of cool snow. In the summer though, this mountain just overheated Phil, the cherry on top of his probable altitude sickness. His stomach churned, the pizza was a bad decision.

“The next peak is the worst of it,” George informed. Phil’s pizza did a somersault. 

“Yeah,” Phil said without thought, like his body was finally doing the thinking for him. “The worst part happened, for me, about a quarter mile back. I’m just going to sit here for a purple mountain majesty or two, then meet you by the car.”

George turned back, shaking his head as he sat next to Phil. “Yeah, no. If you’re seeing purple mountains, we’re definitely walking back to the car together.”

“Whatever you say, Star Spangled Man with a Plan.”  

prompt: flirt, pink, open

There’d been a row of pink tulips lining the path, the last time Stacy walked up their stone entryway. Now there was nothing but snow, the brightness of spring buried. When she reached the door, Stacy didn’t need to turn the knob to know it would no longer be left open for her, that Carol had locked it–changed the locks even–months ago.

Now, Stacy knocked and waited.

Carol took her time answering, the dog they’d rescued together barking as she waited, as if labeling her an intruder. She’d missed Rose for months, the way she acted like a lapdog even though she weighed nearly ninety pounds. It was a manageable feeling to focus on, compared to the bone-aching loss of Carol.

The door opened, and there wasn’t a welcoming smile, only a barely there flash of pain in Carol’s eyes before she shuttered it all away behind a wall that Stacy no longer had permission to pass through. It was hard to believe this woman used to laugh with her, flirt with her, used to love her–How quickly all of it could turn into this, buried like pink tulips under the snow.

prompt: monochrome, light, star

The world appeared in black and white. The dark shadows of the New York City skyline a stark silhouette against the vibrant white of the moon. The Soldier had a mission, and with a single minded focus he prowled through the alley, silently hooking his metal hand around the ladder of a fire escape that hung over his head.

Through the black night he climbed, silent in his movements even as the wind picked up. He made it to top, turned immediately into position on his perch. There was a man that the Boss deemed needed a bullet in their head. The Soldier looked through the scope of his sniper, scanning over the building across the street, the white light windows each their own flicker of life, easily discarded when the Soldier determined they were not his mark.

It was a shuffle of white and black, the dark night and the bright life dispersed throughout the city.

Then–Red.

Bright, vibrant red shot across his sniper’s scope like a star hurtling through the sky, the only color in the night. A superhero, flying over New York City. The Soldier pulled his sniper away from the mission. He followed the red in his scope, watched, as it paused in the air, facing the Soldier. He couldn’t look away.

prompt: television, church, fresh

“It’s not a religion, Ben!” Alice’s voice had surpassed shrill a half a dozen exclamation points ago and now settled somewhere in the vicinity of ear-splitting. “It’s a television show.”

“Yes. One that comes on every Sunday.” 

“Like church?” 

Ben kept his gaze on the television, knowing that the way he chose to answer the question would directly affect his wife’s mood for the rest of the day. “Of course not, sweetie.”

“Sweetie,” Alice mocked. “That’s fresh.”

He never won with Alice these days so instead of trying, he finally ripped his gaze from the television and locked it on Alice’s steely grey-blue eyes. “My show is obviously more entertaining than church, dear.”

Alice’s face turned red. She let out a half-growl, half-shriek noise, and then she pivoted towards the front door, slamming it behind her, presumably off to church. Ben turned back to the television, and counted down the minutes until his favorite show. 

prompt: doughnut, lost, bathing suit

Anna was half under the bed, her arm reaching blindly for a bathing suit. The slipper she’d been missing for months, found. Bathing suit? Not so much. “It’s supposed to be here!”

“Under your bed?” Daniel asked, between bites of a doughnut.

“Well, no.” Anna pushed out from under the bed and blew her bangs in frustration. “It was supposed to be in my drawer, but it wasn’t. I thought maybe the storage bin with summer stuff, but that was a no-go either, and then I checked the garage, then the guest room closet, then the–”

Daniel’s eyebrows lifted as Anna spoke. When he finally swallowed the doughnut, he looked like he’d wished he hadn’t asked the question. Anna agreed, it was a stupid question. 

“Okay, okay, I get it.” With the doughnut finally finished, Daniel could lift his hands as if they were a shield between himself and Anna’s increasing anger and frustration. 

Anna rolled her eyes. “I can’t find it.”

“Well, on the upside, there’s more doughnuts?”

Anna growled and pushed herself to her feet. “I can’t swim in a doughnut, Daniel.”

He couldn’t quite hide the smirk that followed whatever mental image Anna’s words had invoked, and Anna couldn’t quite help herself either. She threw her newly found slipper right towards Daniel’s face. 

“Go bring me a doughnut.” 

prompt: friendship, train, strawberry

The familiar comfort of Strawberry Fields and the countryside rushing past, those were the things Carl tried to focus on. The rock of the train along the tracks would act as a soothing rhythm, if he’d let it. 

Living is easy with eyes closed

Carl closed his own, as if the song was an instruction, and he thought about all his own misunderstandings, the ones that had led him to this train, to the familiar trip home with a familiar song in his ear, but nothing more than that–No one waited at the other end, sitting in the station full of anticipation. No one; an old familiar song provided more friendship and solace than anyone living or dead. 

Nothing is real, And nothing to get hung about.

Carl opened his eyes, across the train car his gaze locked with a stranger, an elderly man, old enough to be his father, even though his father had passed away far younger than Carl was now. In that moment, a connection, a spark of humanity, nothing more than an acknowledgment of each other’s existence. But it was something real, and Carl found himself hung up on it long after the train pulled into the station.

Living is easy with eyes closed, but tonight, Carl decided, he’d go into town for dinner.