W.E. Competition Week 8: Fire on the Mountain

Photograph by K.S. Brooks

Where there is smoke, there is fire. That usually portends disaster—but not today. Your character is heartened by the sight of the smoke he sees through the mountain gap. Who is he, what is he doing and why should the sight of the fire be good news?

In 250 words or less, tell me a story incorporating the elements in the picture. The 250 word limit will be strictly enforced.

Use the comment section below to submit your entry. Entries will be accepted until 5:00 PM Mountain Standard Time on Tuesday, February 21st, 2012.

On Wednesday morning, we will open voting to the public with an online poll for the best writing entry accompanying the photo. Voting will be open until 5:00 PM Thursday.

On Friday morning, the winner will be recognized as we post the winning entry along with the picture as a feature. Best of luck to you all in your writing!

Entries only in the comment section. Other comments will be deleted.

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Photograph by K.S. Brooks, used here with the photographer’s permission. Copying or reproduction of any kind without express consent is prohibited. All rights reserved.

For a more detailed explanation of the contest & its workings, please see the post called “Writing Exercises Return with a Twist” from 12/24/11.

By participating in this exercise the contestants agree to the rules of the contest and waive any and all further considerations or permissions otherwise required for any winning entries to be published by Indies Unlimited as an e-book, showcasing all the photos and with the winning expositions credited appropriately and accordingly.

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14 thoughts on “W.E. Competition Week 8: Fire on the Mountain”

  1. Amidst the devastation, the added weight of his pay couldn’t console him. It would be years before the land recovered from this. This year’s Tuesdays would be blacker still. The fact that he could joke about it turned his stomach. Worse than throwing up was the sudden splash of color it caused at his feet, contrasting against the now grey world.

    Most agreed that they had done a fine job of controlling the fire. Several homes had been consumed. Many men had lost lives fighting the flames for a share of pay, but no populations had been intruded upon. No real harm done. Just millions of acres of new wasteland.

    Men always lost lives in this work. He hadn’t personally known any of the fallen, it was acceptable. Yet here he was staring at blackened soil, suddenly ashamed of the soot in his fingernails. It reminded him of the earthen floor of his old ‘Hooverville’ shanty. He’d left there after overhearing an especially depressing radio broadcast. It had taken six days to hike to a place where wind and terrain would do the brunt of the work.


    That’s why he had done it.


    He had felt proud when he returned from his hike and stared between the mountains to see the first signs of depression defeating, job creating smoke. Beautiful smoke.

    Millions of acres, hundreds of jobs, tons of ash, he’d done that.

    One match.

    He pocketed his money.

    The tears streaked his face like fire scarred mountains.

  2. I wanted to be there in person however, it’s more important to not break that last promise to Dad when I declared never to return. He simply responded, “We’ll see.” Those were the last words we ever spoke to one another. I couldn’t let him be the winner. Not this time. So here I stand; here I will wait.

    Looking out to the mountainside just past the valley, I begin to see it from a distance. The smoke, hovering just above the tree line, would be a horrifying sight to most. To me, it’s liberation.

    As the smoke rises, I can feel the physical pain and tension from all those years of torment rise right along with it, releasing me from his never-ending grasp. Excitement rushes through my veins rejoicing that it is finally done. I could leave now that everything is complete but I cannot strip my eyes from the beautiful scene.

    For years I have dreamt of this day. The day that everything my father worked for would be gone. That everything he cared about lost. He never loved his family; only possessions. Now, there is nothing left behind for anyone to remember him by. The only ones who would have wanted to come here would have been his fans. No family members grieve.

    Finally removing my jacket and tie from the funeral, I start the walk back to my car. “Fame and fortune mean nothing Dad, if you don’t have love and respect of others.”

  3. The orange glow flickering against the low hanging clouds told Trey the decoy had worked. The zealots would not discover the ruse until the ashes cooled. By that time they would be long gone.

    Trey checked the ties holding his sleeping son across his shoulders and nodded to his wife as they fled down the opposite side of the mountain from where the fire consumed what had been their home. Their two older children ran ahead. They had practiced against this day and knew the consequences of failure.

    Two kayaks waited in a cave near the river. The older son pulled one boat from its hiding place while the daughter grabbed the supplies they would need to survive until they found a new refuge. Their mother helped pull out the second kayak and inspected both for damage. When she was satisfied they were safe, they packed their supplies and launched the first with the older boy and his mother aboard.

    Trey and his daughter placed the younger son in the center of the kayak and shoved off. They pointed the kayaks down river toward the rapids. Chemicals Trey had left in the burning house seeded the clouds which dropped rain obscuring their tracks and masking their scent from the trackers who would follow once the ruse was discovered.

    “Dad, will we ever be safe?”

    “Not as long as people don’t understand that love transcends religion.”

  4. "Do not fall asleep", "do not fall asleep"; these words resonated through his aching head. This mantra had kept him awake for what seemed like months. He knew that time was moving slowly and with what felt like burning spears consistently ripping into the flesh of his left leg, he was not sure how much time he had left.

    Inch by inch his body was losing feeling, his left leg smashed between two of the fallen boulders. He knew, if he survived, his left leg would be taken from him but he took comfort and solace knowing that the heat as he laid caught underneath another two large boulders was saving his life, keeping him warm. He knew they would come looking for him eventually, but he did not hold out hope that they would find him alive.

    His wind burned ravaged face stung in the bleak winter chill, He struggled to catch his breath as his dehydrated parched mouth struggled to produce saliva.

    Thoughts of his beautiful teenage daughter kept his mind from losing total grip on his life. He wanted to live, he needed to survive. He could not leave Lucy alone in the world. She was his life and he was hers. The two of them had rebuilt their life together after her mother was taken from them two years ago. He could not leave her alone in the world. She needed him and he needed her and he would live; he would live. He needed to stay awake, he knew that, as the memory of his beautiful wife and daughter flashed a showreel of beautiful images through his semi conscious mind.

    As he lay there, moving in and out of consciousness, he could not quite work out if the sudden soft trail of smoke in the distant sky above him was coming from a fire burning in the surrounding mountains. Was it real or in his delirious imagination. He struggled to focus between the cracks in the boulders that kept him imprisoned.

    This new hope suddenly gave him energy. All he could do was visualise his recovery and rescue. If the smoke was real, he knew they were not too far away. He could smell freedom, he could taste it. It was only a matter of time. How he prayed he had enough time left. I'm coming Lucy, I'm coming .

  5. Jamie was crouched down in a very dense part of the woods when he first saw the smoke. Was it the signal he had been waiting for – was it his team and their instrument of death? It was much too far for him to verify which it was so he said to himself, “I have waited this long a bit longer can’t hurt anything, and really what choice do I have?” He felt the adrenalin surge giving him the feeling that his success was near at hand.

    Lifting the binoculars to his eyes again he scanned the upslope area where the smoke had first appeared. He couldn’t believe his eyes; the dragon his team was utilizing appeared in a clearing spewing flames from his mouth and causing more trees to burst into flames. Hopefully they are actually controlling the dragon and directing the action. If they really are, no one will be able to stop us and soon our original goals for takeover of this area will be accomplished.

    All I need to do is signal them to bring the dragon here. Jamie flashed his pre-determined signal and looking up saw something that would curdle your blood. A huge Raptor had swooped down on the dragon, picked it up and was heading directly for me. He was directly overhead in seconds and I thought, “It’s impossible to hide or run and now I will be feeling the destruction I had so carefully planned for others………….

  6. No one believed that the plane could be found. Everyone had given up the rescue effort days ago. But Elle knew that there still was a chance that her fiancé was alive. It had been seven days since his vintage Cessna had crashed. Since snow was imminent, the search had been postponed—indefinitely. So, she hired survival guide Gavin Conner to take her into the Allegheny Mountains.

    After two days of hiking in the area where the plane had gone down, Elle and Gavin made camp. She was keenly aware of the intense attraction that lingered in the crisp mountain air. But she pushed it aside, knowing that her true love was clinging to life that very moment. Huddling in her sleeping bag, she questioned her desire to find her fiancé while she heard Gavin’s alluring voice calling to her.

    Disregarding her body and following her heart, she ignored the sight of the handsome guide as he poked the campfire before slipping into his bed alone. Steve was alive, she kept repeating to herself as she closed her eyes.

    Morning brought a brisk breeze and on it was the rolling cloud of smoke from a mountain a few hours’ hike away. Elle had never been so happy to see smoke above white-topped mountains! Hurriedly, they followed the visual guide to what they believed was Steve’s signal. She was relieved to find Steve alive! But to Elle’s devastated heart, so was his mistress. Four co-dependently integrated people never felt so alone.

  7. The smoke was clearer now as Jack crested the ridge and looked across the narrow wooded valley beyond. From half way up the slope on the far side, the column rose straight up in the cool mountain air.

    Jack was tired after the climb but knew he had to keep going. It had been four days since Peggy’s helicopter had gone missing. So far the search had found nothing. Now this thin column of smoke restored his waning him hope. He pressed on.

    After Peggy’s phone call to say she was leaving there had only been one radio call to say she had crossed the divide, then silence. It should only have been an hour and a half’s flight and Peggy was an experienced pilot. She was also eight months pregnant and probably shouldn’t have been flying, but there was no-one else.

    Married these ten years, they had been longing for children. They loved the mountains and their work; the flying was always interesting and serving the outlying communities was a way of life to them, not just a job. But they wanted a family. Now the thought of losing Peggy and the baby was just too much and it drove him on.

    The trees were thicker on the next ridge and the going was slow. Four hours after he saw the smoke, Jack reached the fire. Peggy lay asleep beside it, her shattered leg bound and splinted with a branch, their newborn son cradled on her breast.

  8. Hania dragged his weary legs up another ridge. He had been out since daybreak, hunting the mountain lion that had killed his mother the previous evening.

    “Come, Kohana, my swift one, you should be thankful this terrain is too steep for me to ride you. We must return home before the dark descends even though our task has been unsuccessful.”

    Checking the position of the sun, he decided he could afford a brief rest so he lead his palomino to a small clump of grasses almost hidden in a crevice. Taking out his penknife, he cut off a slice of the dried caribou meat he kept in his soft leather pouch, picturing his beautiful wife, Mapiya, cheeringly sewing on its colourful beads. She would be preparing his dinner by now. How lucky he was. Their son would be born in the Summer, a welcome addition to the Sioux camp. Well, he hoped she would bear him a son, but maybe a daughter…

    But he had to get home. No time to daydream.

    Picking up Kohana’s reins, he continued onwards. Suddenly, he was alerted by the sound of shifting stones. His hand went straight to his knife as a body of brown fur leapt towards him. It dropped harmless to the ground, his knife embedded in its heart.

    Gathering some dried grass, he lit a fire to tell his father of his success. Within minutes he had the welcome reply.

  9. Ridiculous. It was a cat-and-mouse game, one they should know better than to play in such a small isolated community. Unexplained departure was the only exit they had.

    They found the ruined cabin just when they had given up.

    'It was silly running away. We should’ve …'

    'What? Confront the elders? You are someone else's man… I am Micah's woman. It would’ve been a stoning at the very least.'

    She was right, but here, in the darkness of the undergrowth, with birds gradually silenced by falling night, it seemed ridiculous. They would freeze, no matter how warm their feelings for each other.

    Then they saw it: crumbling, rotten. A loggers' cabin abandoned decades ago. No roof to speak of. Just a pile of lumber that might protect them from forest creatures and the rising damp.

    It saved their spirits if not their lives. In the morning, a niggle of unrest was born when footprints in the dirt seemed different from the ones they made getting there.

    He did not alarm her. 'Let's head for that hollow – there might be a spring.'

    'Oh! I could do with a splash and a good deep drink!' She did not sense his disquiet.

    They reach a rise and he looked back from the distance they covered. He was right. The villagers had trailed them. The smoke in the distance was a presage of what was to come. They had burnt the cabin. Who knew what was next?

  10. Lines Composed at MeiWah Restaurant Ten Minutes Before A Poetry Reading For Which I’d Overlooked My Bag of Books

    Before my first book appeared in print, a plane flew me west to a mountain side for a crucial reading: Major Literary Lions lurked in the caves, prowled the terrain. Their judgments were weighty. If they did not like me, I would vanish like the smoke from their campfires in a storm. If they did—

    I climbed the trail, unbuckled my pack, then realized: the manuscript of my poetry collections stayed on the plane…

    There I stood: poemless, de-poemed.

    And in the smoky glow, I was utterly naked. Nakedness in a dream is reputed to be of psychological import.

    Still, on the programs I was Slated to Read. Campfires lighted the slope, throngs settled to hear me.

    Prettier then, still I was not inclined to strip for free.

    Somehow I carried it off.

    What relief when, awake on flat land, a real publisher asked to print my first book: I could hold my head high, keep my clothes on.

    For my bookless reading tonight, what is the drill? Who will be lighting the fires, who fanning the smoke? Will there be enough smoke to serve as a screen or scrim?

  11. TeddyTears

    Earthen plates crashed into one another, sending a roaring locomotive soaring up underground.

    “Its sh-shaking, Mama. Will the earth ever q-quit quaking?” Trees crashed; he covered his ears and shrieked. “Stop it, mama, pretty please, stop!” But the mountainside Shantytown fell into ruins, showering white concrete powder like snow. Mother Nature barked soot in fury. Then all fell silent.

    Faint cries came from muffled sobs in rubble nearby: “Save me! I cannot wait.”

    But he couldn’t scream to stop the insanity. Dust clogged his breathless, parched little mouth. 'Mama… it’s so dark. I’m terrified, Mama. What did I do to bring down such wrath? I’m only seven. Mommy, where are you?'

    Seconds ago he was setting the dinner table, letting family mill around his ‘stuffy’ bear. Now he was alone, tortured, pinned in musty, damp earth that reeked of natural gas. Crying, in silent anguish: 'My leg is throbbing, broken in pieces. And my reading glasses pinch something fierce. Please rescue me, for I must find Teddy. He’s splashing huge crocodile tears down on me from above. Too much pain…it can’t be me. Is it, really? How can I cry with poor Teddy in pain? Help me, my fluffy little tear-stained friend. Take me home. My teardrops are starting to muddy.'

    ‘What’s that, Teddy? I hear doggies barking. There’s firelight and smoke up there, on the mountain. Is it Search and Rescue? Mama, I’m coming!’

    Soon dusty ashes were falling away. “I’m b-begging you, please… find my teddy.”

  12. I look back and smile as smoke billows up from the distant hillside. A fire in the forest should be frightening, but this one sends a thrill of joy through me. I’m finally free of those bastards. They never even noticed me slip out, drunk as they were. There was only one thing they thought I was good for.

    They promised a job with steady pay, all meals included. Times are tough. You take work when you can, even when it drags you to the middle of nowhere. The pay never materialized, neither did the food, unless you count stale bread and broth. We were only cheap labor for their little endeavor…and entertainment.

    Life on the streets taught me patience always pays off. I played along, even pretended to enjoy it, all the while sneaking supplies and scattering explosives around the camp. The others who came with me didn’t fare so well. Eugene died in a rock slide, Jimmy from too many fists. Carlene, well, she tried to say no. The list goes on.

    I didn’t ask the right questions when they hired me, but neither did they. Discounting me and not asking about what I knew was a mistake they’ll never repeat. Now my bags are filled with their treasures. Dad taught me well before he died. I’d be fine out here. Rubble and ash are all anyone will find of those men. Don’t ever mess with a rebel’s daughter. She’ll put you in your place.

  13. Why did that place matter so much? Everything about it seemed so insignificant. The people weren't particularly pleasant, but neither were they mean. They just were. And there couldn't have been more than fifty or sixty of them. The most that could be said was they went quietly. At least from where I stood, I couldn't hear anything. And usually I do. Especially if there are the hills to carry the voices back. It almost makes me wonder if I did it right. Maybe they all got out of there. The smoke did look unusually clean. So maybe the souls were pure, or something like that. I've been staring at that smoke and watching it crawl up the trees and the sky, and it didn't look like there was anything more to it than what I usually saw after an assignment.

    I watched more and couldn't decide what was worse – that they all escaped or that their pure souls somehow cleansed the smoke. I watched hungrily for the smallest thread of black, foul suit to ride up pillows of white. But nothing. No screams, no sign of human oils burning rich and dark. Just pure white souls.

    Who were those people? I think I know why they mattered.

  14. Jace held his hand up, fist pointed toward the sky as a sign to halt. The company came to a ragged stop. The clanking of chain mail against swords rustled back along the trail as his men slowed.

    "My Lord," his first captain intoned. It was not a question, but a confirmation of what Jace already knew. A smile peeled across his face, his lips parting in a savage grin.

    "Smoke," he said quietly, careful not to let his voice drop to a whisper for fear that the enemy still lay in ambush along the path. Whispers carried further than a low voice in these woods. "Captain Royce, with me."

    The two men raced up the hill, finally finding a tree that was tall enough to see over the rise. Jace himself unfastened his armor and clambered up the hundred foot redwood. He reached the top after a careful ten minutes. As he cupped his hands over his eyes to shield them from the bright sun, he could already see the tips of the flames as they spouted up over the lip of the valley. Another menacing smile spread across his face.

    "Form up the men Captain Royce. I don't know who did it, but someone just made us very rich men," he shouted down, his mind already spinning with the tales of glory about how Lord Jace Rollins had single-handedly captured the Fort of Impass, the grin spreading wider across his face.

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