Flash Fiction Challenge: Death March

Jim set the plane down safely. That was no small thing with the kind of engine failure they had experienced. Even the animals made it out okay. It might have been better if everyone had died in the crash.

The problem now is that they are 200 miles from anywhere. No provisions. No shelter. No one is looking for them.

Nine hours of walking. The mountains looked no closer. No one was talking anymore. They shuffled relentlessly forward like zombies. If Beth stumbled and fell again, she would be left behind. She would die. No one had the strength to help her up again. No one even had the energy to care.

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

Please keep language and subject matter to a PG-13 level.

Use the comment section below to submit your entry. Entries will be accepted until 5:00 PM Pacific Time on Tuesday, August 7th, 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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8 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Challenge: Death March”

  1. Death March

    Jim could see the desperation in their eyes and knew it was necessary to re-group with a plan that would save them all. He stopped the march and gathered everyone into a circle with the dogs kept safely in the center of the group. “People, I have been through these kinds of situations in the past and with all of us working together rather than in frustrated singles lashing out with no set direction, we can survive.” He hesitated long enough to assure that everyone was paying total attention, and then continued.
    “Beth will not make it without our help, but she will not be the only one struggling in desperation if we don’t execute a sensible, realistic plan. The mountains you see on the horizon are attainable, but we must concentrate on a strategy for success – not failure!”
    “I want all of you to aim for the outcrop of rocks you see left center of the horizon. As you can see the rocks are much closer then the mountains and offer two things for us – water and protection. I have been to that outcrop and know that when we arrive there the last leg is definitely attainable.”
    With this renewal of hope the small group did make it to the oasis behind the outcrop of rocks Jim had pointed out. Not only did they make it to fresh water and protection but found a friendly group of desert Bedouins that took them to safety.

  2. Beth walked slower than everyone. The sand in her shoes and the barking of the dogs was irritating beyond measure. For eight miles she’d remained ten steps behind. Not from weakness, but because she was analyzing the potential of the three men. Thing one, they were all useless. When they realized near death didn’t mean last girl on earth becoming orgy fodder, they lost interest in her. Thing two, they were whinny, weak idiots. She was the only woman, and without a doubt the smarter and the most prepared. They’d laughed when she’d grabbed the carry on luggage, but it would lead to their down fall. What good would their briefcases do? Tapping the side of the large purse hanging from the straps across her shoulder, and readjusting the backpack on her back, Beth pretended to stumble again. No one stopped walking, hell they didn’t even look back. Beth laughed softly to herself. Food and drink was what they needed. Ten steps turned to fifteen and she slyly pulled one of the six water bottles through the side pocket of the backpack and took two big swallows, before immediately pushing it back inside and yanking out a granola bar. Her years of training and competition for iron-man triathlons would be the factor in saving her life.

  3. The dogs must have heard something, for they took a hard right and shot away, barking like madmen. It was all Jim could do to keep up. “C’mon!” he hollered, windmilling an arm. “They’ve got a scent of something!”
    The boys perked up and began moving faster, leaving Beth behind. Shock, hunger and exhaustion were taking their toll on her, but she willed herself not to cry. She refused to show weakness, even now. Besides, her parched body needed the moisture.
    She shaded her eyes with a hand and watched as the dogs reached – a stream? Impossible! “Great, now I’m hallucinating, too,” she croaked.
    Above her, a raven croaked in reply.
    She made her other hand into a fist and shook it at the bird. “I’m not dead yet, you bastard!” she cried – or thought she did, or wanted to. Then she missed a step and fell face-forward into the sand.
    She heard the raven croak again. Then she knew nothing for a time.
    She was roused by a wet tongue on her cheek. “Not dead yet,” she mumbled, feebly waving the raven away. The bird whined in her ear, sounding very much like a dog.
    She pushed herself up. Sonny, Jim’s Lab, waved his tail madly. A water bottle was tied to his collar with a bandanna. She undid the knot with shaking fingers and drained the bottle.
    “There she is!” Jim yelled. “Good boy, Sonny!”
    “Good boy,” Beth echoed, burying her face in Sonny’s fur. “Good boy.”

  4. The dogs came back for Beth. Snow was the first. She crept up to Beth and licked her face before flopping on the ground, sides heaving as she panted open mouthed. Coal and Emba joined them once they realised the trek was not a game. Together the three dogs and Beth lay still for another hour until the blistering sun finally relented and left them alone for the night.
    As desert cold replaced desert heat the dogs licked dew from their coats before getting to work on Beth. They nudged her face with their cold noses, whined in her ear, tugged at her clothing, pushed and pulled until she finally opened her eyes. Then they shepherded her back to the plane.
    The trek back was a nightmare of thirst and stumbling feet for Beth but the dogs would not let her be, let her give up and just before the sun rose they all reached the downed hulk. It glittered with condensation in the grey light.
    The helicopter spotted the wreck a day later. When the rotors stopped two black dogs staggered out of the shade of the one, remaining wing, their tails wagging. The woman and the small white dog did not greet them but they were still alive. The men were found over the next five days. All alone. All very dead.

  5. Bob followed Jim’s lead after the crash because he always followed Jim, but Jim was wrong. If they did not find water soon, they would die. If they could not guard against the night winds, they would freeze.

    In one of the western movies Bob had watched, the hero had found water. Without water they would die if they did not freeze first.

    The sand was not dry white power, nor was it salt of a dried lake bed. It was firm, but it held moisture. To Bob, that meant water. Water meant life. If they could hold out another day, they could find a dried stream bed and follow it to civilization.

    As they crossed a rise, Bob saw a depression. The sand in the depression was darker than the sand on either side. Darker meant water. Water meant life. Bob raced to the bottom. Feverishly he dug a hole in the deepest part. The sand got darker and cooler. The others stared at him in disbelief.

    Bob’s efforts were rewarded with a trickle of moisture. Bob continued digging. Soon he had a small puddle. The water smelled pungent, but it was water. Soon everyone was digging and more water trickled in. As darkness fell, they drank. Water meant life and life meant hope.

    Two weeks later an oil company crew found the bodies poisoned by chemicals used by the “fracking” oil extraction process. The crew buried the bodies and told no one of their find.

  6. It was turning out to be a dog day afternoon. All these years we had fed them, walked them, sheltered them, de-wormed them, not realizing they were the true overlords, playing mankind like a squeeze toy. Now they were in charge, herding their so-called masters where they willed, culling the weak from the strong, sheparding humanity according to their own designs.

    I watched powerlessly as they marched Helena off to Dog knows what fate. Helena, heart of my heart, the only woman I had ever loved. Even when we were kids on the corner of the street, no matter how rough and ready things got I knew we would harmonize. Who could imagine our melody would turn into a howl?

    Lad and Lassie, our twins, watched their mother depart, their eyes filling with tears. “What is it Dad?” Lassie asked. “Did Mommy fall into the well again?” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that this time Mommy would not be saved.

    Mankind might lie down, but we weren’t out. Well, yes, we actually were out, put out into the backyard. That didn’t matter. We wouldn’t just roll over. If I had to become the alpha male, so be it. I would lead a resistance movement, even if I had to create one from scratch.

    Defiantly, I whispered “Bad dog!” The dogs better watch their rears. Make no bones about it, Helena would be retrieved.

  7. Beth dropped to her knees in the arid, gritty sand. The heat caused the seemingly endless expanse of desert to waver in her vision. Jim cast a quick glance back at her over his shoulder, but as she slumped over, his gaze turned back towards the distant Saharan Atlas Mountains. Jim, his associates, and the dogs continued on. Beth was expendable. She had spent months of reconnaissance to ensure Jim felt that way.

    After infiltrating Jim’s organization, Beth discovered the information they held and their intent to blackmail the US government. The problem was, Jim had friends in high places. He needed to disappear without a trace. That’s where Beth came in.

    After the others were well ahead of Beth, she discretely pulled her satellite com from her backpack and dialed headquarters for further instructions.

    “Status report,” her commander’s voice ordered sternly through crackling static.

    “The plane is down, but the targets survived. Awaiting further orders,” Beth replied stolidly, her tone businesslike.

    “Damn,” her commander muttered. “Your coordinates put you south of the Atlas Mountains. Is this correct?”

    “Yes, sir,” Beth answered, pulling a bottle of water from the backpack. She took just a sip to wet her mouth. There was no telling just how soon she would be picked up.

    “We cannot risk the targets being found before they die out there. Take them out. You will be retrieved by air at 1800 hours. Copy?”

    “Yes, sir,” Beth answered, drawing her Glock 22 from her bag.

  8. Three planes had left the war torn airport yesterday with high hopes of a new life in a new land. At least one had been shot down. Jim wasn’t sure about the other. He had veered off course to keep from taking fire. The maneuver had worked, but the ancient engine seized up only an hour into the flight. He wasn’t sure if landing the plane safely was a miracle or a curse. No one knew where they were and they were miles away from even the smallest town. All they had now were sand and burning sun.

    Jim looked back at the line of survivors. Even the animals were struggling. It was unlikely any of them would survive long enough to reach the hazy line of mountains on the horizon that had been taunting them for the past nine hours. They couldn’t go back and the future was dim, but no one complained anymore. They were too tired, too exhausted. The next person to fall would be left behind.

    Just as Jim resumed shuffling across the sandy ground, one of the dogs cried out and sank to its knees. It lay on the hot sand, eyes closed, tongue hanging limp and dry. Everyone stopped and stared at its labored breathing. Twenty survivors, no food, no water. One dog on death’s door. Jim glanced at the other survivors. No one spoke as he pulled out his utility knife. At least now they had some food.

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