The tablets that Chuck Wendig brought down from the mount this week instructed us to use ten special words in our Flash Fiction creation of “1,000 words or so”. (I highlighted the words as I used them.) I hope you enjoy – as always, comments and constructive criticisms are welcome and appreciated.
A dirt trail led to the top of the cliff that rose on the west side of the canyon. Narrow and covered with loose clay, the path was close enough to the edge of the cliff for Jeff to be cautious climbing it in sneakers or hiking boots; in dress shoes it was much more dangerous. Jeff didn’t care and kept climbing.
He emerged from the canyon’s shade into the glare of the late afternoon sun on top of the mesa. The desert’s heat slapped him with its full force. Jeff headed toward the only place to hide from the sun, his old fortress dug into the side of a dry creek bed under a disfigured willow. Ignoring the mess it was going to make of his suit, he flopped down into the tiny patch of shade it offered.
The desert tableau was as unforgiving as Jeff’s mood. In the distance a dust cloud rose from the town of Brimstone and the sulfur mine that gave it its name. A large mirage, brimming only with deceit, shimmered between the canyon and the town. Jeff knew that there was no open water anywhere near here at this time of year.
Recorded music rose faintly from the canyon’s floor, indicating that the funeral would be starting soon. While Jeff had inherited his parents’ preferences in music, given the circumstances the medley of their favorite tunes failed to captivate. Eventually the music faded and the minister’s drone could be heard.
Jeff knew that he should be down in the ranch house yard along with his sisters and the rest of the family. As the oldest, it was his proper place, his duty. He knew that many would be wondering where he had disappeared, but his sisters would just have to deal with it. In the end, all of the morning’s meeting and greeting with family friends and townsfolk had just been too much.
The minutes dragged on in the heat as the sound of the services finally ended. Jeff checked the time on his phone and waited for the call he knew was coming. As expected, it was Diane who called.
“Maggie’s going to have a stroke. Where are you?” Diane asked.
“Up on the rim. I’m fine.”
“She’s not going to wait for you, you know. There’s a schedule.”
“Right, you would think it was synched to an atomic clock somewhere. But it’s not.”
“Mom and Dad wanted it this way, and you know it,” Diane said. “Doing what they wanted is the least we can do for them.”
“I’m starting back down now. I need to be off the trail before it gets dark anyway. But I won’t be done before sunset, so tell Maggie to go ahead without me. I’ll see it from up here.”
“OK, just don’t expect me to save you from her when you get down here.” With that, the line went dead.
Jeff got up out of the shade and looked at the sun just above the western horizon. He started carefully down the trail, the shade below the rim blissfully a touch cooler than the exposed desert above. As he was about halfway down he could hear the small crowd below counting down.
“Three! Two! One!”
Pausing at a safe location, Jeff looked out into the canyon and saw a cloud of white balloons drifting up from the ranch below. Just after the balloons passed his elevation, at precisely sunset, a huge weather balloon raced through them, trailing a small box of ashes.
Jeff watched the weather balloon as it rose and expanded, continuing to catch the light of the sun long after it cleared the rim of the gorge. Mindful of the narrow trail, the gathering dark, and the long fall, Jeff turned and walked carefully down toward his family and the gauntlet he would have to run.