Flash Fiction Challenge: The Place of Bones

Castillo de San Cristóbal old san juan 1999
Photo by K.S. Brooks

The Place of Bones. That is what the English prisoners called it. The Spanish had a more pleasant sounding name for it, but the English nickname stuck, and for good reason.

It mattered very little to the men inside, for they comprised their own nation, bound together in misery and released only by death.

But in 1682, John Deane was brought to the prison fortress. John was well-known among the Brethren of the Coast. He’d been caught and tried and sentenced to hang in half a dozen ports. Somehow John always managed to slip away. The men tried to tell him that this time it would be different.

John laughed and said, “Gentlemen, I’ve not come to steal away in the dark this time. No, we shall all leave together, and with all the Spanish gold we can carry.”

In 250 words or less, tell us 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 Tuesday at 5:00 PM Pacific Time.

On Wednesday afternoon, 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 afternoon, the winner will be recognized as we post the winning entry along with the picture as a feature. Then, at year end, the winners will be featured in an anthology like this one. Best of luck to you all in your writing!

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11 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Challenge: The Place of Bones”

  1. The Tower of Promise
    For one hundred nights I, King Aaron of Elderon, have climbed these ancient stairs to the tower of promise, I have blown this horn each night at sundown as was written in the scrolls of old. This kingdom was built with four towers and no walls as a promise to the dragons to live in peace and harmony. It was promised if we built this tower facing the land of the dragons if ever we were in eminent danger we could call them. Each night I would place the horn to my lips and sound the call. Mist would roll from the end of it into the cool night air.
    The only thing that came was the mist. It started out as a low lying fog that gradually built to a great wall around the entire palace grounds that included the town and all of its inhabitants. As the last note died out from the horn I scanned the skies, hoping.
    With heavy steps I walked back down the tower to the awaiting council and town’s people. Murmurs were rolling through the crowd. I raised my hand for silence. “We have no choice but to send out a chosen to see what has become of the dragons.”
    “Father, I will go, why sacrifice someone else’s life so we may be spared.” My eldest son Richard spoke. So it was agreed, in the morning he would leave. Everyone stood quietly as he bravely walked into the mist.

  2. “What’s your plan then?” One of the prisoners demanded.
    John grinned. “There is a guerite – a place on the wall from which the soldiers keep watch – called “The Devil’s Box.”
    A dark-eyed man spoke from where sat. “La Garita del Diablo.”
    John looked sharply at him. “You know it?”
    The man nodded. “Do you?”
    “Aye, a sweet lass I met down in the town told me of a way in and out of this fort through that sentry box.”
    “And so that is how you plan to lead us out?”
    It was John’s turn to nod. “See, I relieved the guard of his keys on his way out.” He held up the key ring and a ripple of agitation ran through the crowd. “I unlock the gate, we find the place where the Spaniards stash their gold, help ourselves and walk away.”
    A sardonic smile appeared on the man’s face. “This girl, she called herself Dina?”
    John involuntarily stepped back. “Aye, how did you know?”
    “A girl with sea-green eyes and milky-white skin?”
    Suddenly suspicious, he asked, “How do you know her?”
    “I was once a guard here. I met and fell in love with this girl. She convinced me to steal gold and sneak out of my garita to give it to her.” Pulling open the front of his shirt, he exposed a chest hideously scarred with circular welts. “A sea-demon. What you call a mermaid. She gave me this as a token of her esteem.”

  3. With a stone-shattering explosion, the rusty door to John Deane’s cell broke from its hinges, the controlled blast casting it against the corridor in a shower of sandy rock fragments. Smirking, John stepped into the dusty miasma, dropping his manacles.

    Some prisoners refused to leave their cells, even after John opened their doors and shackles with the precise detonations of his “button bombs,” opting for the familiarity of accepted death over the unknown. John was amused by their tenacity; this wasn’t the first time he’d experienced such obstinacy.

    “Come, my good fellows,” John announced with a flourish, leading those who chose freedom up a spiraling stone staircase to the prison’s roof.

    The soaring vantage atop the Prison of Bones revealed sweeping canyon walls stretching into the desolate distance, earthen striations hinting at their age. John smiled as the other prisoners took in the view . . . and the mound of bagged gold at the roof’s edge.

    “Always remember,” John laughed from beside the roof’s domed guardhouse, “never leave a captive his shoes.” Lifting his right foot, he peeled off the false sole of his leather boot.

    From within the hollowed sole, John retrieved a small, rectangular device, its illuminated buttons drawing gasps from the prisoners. “Every time,” he mused. Upon pressing the round red button at the center of the device’s keypad, a swirling silver-blue portal bordered with crackling electricity formed before him.

    John turned to the shocked prisoners, grinning. “Welcome to the future, my friends.”

  4. We listened to the snatch of conversation the informant’s cell phone recorded. “Obviously it’s a code or gibberish,” I said.

    First man: “Dang Shellaz barbones swilling dEdUcesin chaphew whoop kibitzing’em kadevergrossly like Voodoocallcenters.”

    Second man: “Hunkydangus hasal oconahrh todee ditzcashete.”

    Woman: “Oraet follow wahneechippy jerry hunkyswingman bandogginggee barbones omniumTtempus.”

    We called our precinct’s cryptologist. She took a copy to the state department’s crypto-brainiacs. They forwarded it to the Feds and Spooks. Copies wound-up in Interpol and MI8’s famous Pigeon cryptologists.

    Vic, my partner said we were too intellectual, “It’s a heist, but who would want barbones?”

    “How about gangs breaking bones in a barroom rumble?” I guessed.

    The recruit stepped uninvited into our conversation, “Growing up between a set of Dolly Partons in the Blue Ridge, we created our own slang-speak.”

    Vic showed interest, “And…?”

    “It’s not a code. It’s Bubba, Bubba3’s and his wife, La-a (Ladasha).

    “You saying it’s a language?” I asked.

    “Yep,” the rookie smiled. “What they’re saying is…

    Bubba: “… woman’s so rich she’s got a place in her hatband she sticks million dollar bills and gives them away like business cards.”

    Bubba3: “We follow her to her stash.”

    La-a: “Then what? She gotta have security we can’t see.”

    “Impressive,” I said. “What’re bar-bones?” I asked.

    “Million dollar bills.”

    Vic said, “I know the woman. They ARE business cards.”

    “A hatband! The place of bones is a hatband!”

    Vic and I rolled out laughing, “Fooled all those pigeon-brains! I’d love to be a fly taking pictures.”

  5. The tower that jutted out from the cliffside was aptly named ‘The Place of Bones’. It had been Anaira’s home for more years than she cared to remember. Banished by a cruel queen, she dreamed of the day when the man of her dreams would come to rescue her. She gazed out the barred window at the sea, in reminiscence of all the suitors who had tried and failed.
    Those who had failed were nothing more than bones, strewn on the rocks below, eventually to be carried away by the lapping tide.
    The next would succeed, she assured herself. He would not suffer the same fate as the others.
    It was her fault, she knew. Her desire for them always led to their demise.
    The next time would be different, she vowed. She had said that before, but this time she meant it. Next time she would restrain her lust.
    Anaira ran her tongue over her razor-sharp canines savoring the lingering taste of the handsome man who had arrived that morning.
    They were just so hard to resist; each time one came close, the scent of his blood sent her into a frenzy.

  6. Iron through flesh. Iron on bone. Iron on stone.

    Sparks flashed in the night.

    The prisoners outnumbered the guards—still foggy from sleep. “Unhand me thou son of a sow!” “Thy head is mine.” “The exit is barred” “We have the keys.”

    The outcome of the battle was a matter of mathematics. Soon the last moan became the silence of death. The prisoners were free. Free to find the gold. Free to find the exit. Free to flee from the dreaded prison known as the Place of Bones.

    John Deane led the bedraggled band of convicts through torch-lit passages. “To the gold!”

    After they had filled their sacks with as much as they could carry, John led them toward the only egress from the promontory—a footbridge across the ravine.

    It swayed in the salty breeze blowing off the nearby ocean. Seaweed. Fish. Freedom!

    They turned to gaze at the fortress that had been their torture chamber for so long. Silhouetted against the sky, it was indeed a sinister sight to behold.

    “Onward, gentlemen. Our fortunes await.”

    With cautious steps, they crept across the bridge. It shivered. It shook. It groaned beneath the weight of gold and men. Then it gave way in the darkness. They all plunged into the chasm below.

    Gold through flesh. Gold on bone. Gold on stone.

    The grotesque grins of skulls in the gorge taunted the men, who straightaway relinquished their treasures—and their lives—to the many previous prisoners who had attempted to escape.

  7. “Ok, Ok,” Said Johnno, still numb-mouthed after his failed ‘eat rat-poison, escape from prison-hospital’ fiasco. “So the p-plan to shave all our b-body-hair with rusty can-tops to weave an escape rope went kinda p-pear-shaped and you’re all sore as Hell, but this time, I’ve gotta sure ff-fire-winner!”

    “Better be good,” said someone, “Firing squad’s at dawn. Hey, Bluey! Set the alarm, don’t wanna oversleep and miss breakfast.”

    “What’s the plan, then, Johnno? We’re all pig-sick of eatin’ the wall-plaster outa the tunnel. Ok, you said rocks’re mineral-rich, but Jeez! My guts hurt. Ain’t taken a dump in days.”

    “Sure will tomorrow!” Quipped Bluey.

    “Shuddup! Alwight, here’s my p-plan. Before they execute us, the p-prison gates are opened so they can take us out and b-bury us, Right?”

    “Sure.” Said Bluey, “But ain’t we dead by then, Johnno?”

    “You guys … So negative sometimes. Lithen-up, here’s what we’re gonna do …”

    Sunrise found them backed-up against the bullet-scarred wall.

    “Ready! Aim ..”

    “Lithen! Earthquake! Run!” Johnno warned. The Officer smiled, tight-lipped.
    “We’re not fools, Johnno, you think no-one’s tried that before?”

    Rifles lifted again. “Tornado!” Blustered Johnno.

    The Officer’s eyes rolled Heavenwards.

    “Lucky last!” Hissed Johnno. His mates shuffled uneasily. “When they’re suckered, run!”

    “Enough!” Snapped the Officer. “Aim!”

    “Ff-ff-ff …” Spluttered Johnno, desperately.

    “FIRE?” Inquired the Officer helpfully. “Or …” as he ambled away, “Free beer! Phone’s ringing! Free Willie! I’ve heard them all …”

    “Ff-ff-f… You!” Gasped Johnno, dying.

    “And Thank you, Johnno, but no, I swing the other way …”

  8. The details set in place, John looked over his plans again. The simple plan showed genius, at least in his eyes. In the past his escapes ran along more complicated lines. But this wasn’t an escape.

    The Spanish kept uprisings down through isolation. Prisoners maintained limited contact and individual cells. John changed that. Several of his men preceded him to the Place of Bones. They brought his working code, a series of whistles and bird calls, and trained other inmates in the new language. Prisoner communication, cooperation, and morale built to a level unheard of before this.

    The plan began with a small group, team leaders that trained their own groups. They lacked the discipline of a crack military unit, but for prisoners they came close. Their lack of weapons did little to deter their determination. Tools to fashion makeshift weapons were readily at hand. These weapons looked and performed as simple tools allowing them to remain hidden till they were called to action.

    The dark skies on the morning of the riot that changed it all, held ominous portents. Morning formations and duty transfers happened as they did everyday. It was the call of the hawk from John Deane that changed the course of the prisoner’s lives.

    A concerted revolution with little more than workmen’s tools overpowered the guards and their weapons of war. The tides turned for the Spanish that day when the English worked together for their own greater good.

  9. Red sat on his haunches and listened to the man named Deane ramble on about himself and his exploits around the world. Every time the man’s voice rose, arms waving to articulate his story, Red’s spine tightened and his claws clenched. Babitt paced out an elongated figure-eight just behind Red’s large shadow, his rat tail following along like a pet snake.

    “We gonna help him escape, Red?” Babitt asked without slowing.

    Red furrowed his black eyes. “We certainly are not.”

    This brought Babitt to an abrupt halt. “Why not? We’ve helped others get out. Why not this one?”

    Deane went on bragging with his chest pushed out and a comical scowl on his lip. A few of the men imprisoned with him were impressed; Red saw it in their eyes, but most feared him. Men, like rats, cannot hide the fear inside.

    Red motioned toward Deane. “This man is evil. We don’t help bad people escape the Place of Bones. Some men deserve to be in chains. Others deserve to die here. Listen to him. He talks of stealing gold that is not his, of taking some poor woman against her will. Shall we help a man like that?”

    Babitt shook his cone shaped snout emphatically. “No! No, we shouldn’t. But listen to how he escaped from other places—some worse than this. He may get out whether we like it or not.”

    Red felt a smile pulling at his whiskers. “Gather the council. It’s time to prepare the labyrinth.”

  10. “Get in there, English scum,” said the guard as he shoved John into the tiny stone cell of El Castillo de Oro, or as the inmates called it, The Place of Bones. “I don’t care how many prisons you’ve escaped from, you’re not leaving here until you’re rotted bones.”

    John held out his hands. “My good man, you seem to have forgotten to remove my shackles.”

    “You want them off so bad, start chewing.” The guard slammed the door shut and left.

    Unfazed, John smiled at the man across the hall. “Greetings. To whom have I the pleasure of addressing?”

    “Only the gentleman pirate, John Deane, talks like that. Paul’s me name. You done gotten in too deep this time, Mr. Deane. There’s no escapin’ this place.”

    “Don’t be so sure, Paul.”

    John knew the history of this prison and the English translation. There was far more to the Golden Castle’s name than the stones, which shimmered gold in the setting sun. He extracted a pencil sized cylinder from its hiding place and gave it a few twists. Off popped the shackles, then the door lock clicked open. Paul stared as John stepped into the hallway and casually walked deeper into the prison. At each cell he released prisoners by pointing the cylinder.

    “You’re going the wrong way,” said Paul

    “You can continue to the traditional exit and die,” said John, “Or you may all come with me and walk away with as much Spanish gold as you can carry.”

  11. John Deane knew he had the men on side when he surveyed the gaunt faces around him.
    Eyes which only minutes ago were dull and cynical, now glittered with hope as they gazed upon their saviour. John’s plan had buoyed their courage and they had nothing to lose.

    Extra guards had been stationed at the prison since the Spanish galleon had crashed into the rocks off shore.
    The survivors had transported the bullion in row boats and stored it in a ground floor cell until a rescue ship could reach them some months later.

    John and one of the stronger prisoners easily disabled the two jailers who brought the slop to the crowded cell.
    He had retrieved a musket and silently led the men down to the dungeon. A feeble old fellow was given the task of quietly releasing the prisoners from the adjacent cells.

    The sight which greeted them below fuelled their anger. A mountain of skeletons piled almost to the ceiling filled the dank room.
    “They don’t call it the place of bones for nothing gentlemen. Quick now, let’s avenge these poor souls and be rid of this place.”

    Armed with make shift weapons of skulls and thigh bones the motley crew stormed the guard room smashing anyone in their way till they reached the treasure.

    “Bring it down to the shore men,” John shouted,” and light the bonfire. My ship The Black Rose awaits us yonder. Freedom and wealth is ours.”

    Cheers filled The Place of Bones.

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