Flash Fiction Challenge: Tough Break

cypress reflection magnolia swamp 1996
cypress reflection magnolia swamp
Photo by K.S. Brooks

Breaking out of prison was just the first step and far from the biggest challenge ahead.

Bobby Dupree grew up in swamps like this. He knew the dangers that lay in wait, but the sounds of the hounds behind drove him on.

He surged forward through the shallow, muddy water, looking anxiously about for cousin Jack and the Jon Boat. Twenty minutes later and quite exhausted, Bobby hauled himself up on some cypress roots to rest. As he reached up to swat at a mosquito feasting on his face, he noticed something floating on the turbid water. It was an oar…

In 250 words or less, write a story incorporating the elements in the picture and/or the written prompt above. Do not include the prompt in your entry. 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. No political or religious entries, please.

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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8 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Challenge: Tough Break”

  1. Bayous play fair. Prisons don’t.

    Night I busted out, I run right into the bayou. ‘Bout 20 feet in, I stop, quiet. Not hidin’ from guards. They’d never come in at night. To listen. Growin’ up in the swamp, you learn sounds. Scales on a log with a splash means gator. Wings on a bat sound different than a bird. Sittin’ on a cypress knee, I wait on Cousin Jack and his boat.

    My foot falls asleep. I move it. I put it down again. Rattlesnake, right beneath my foot. Playin’ fair. Givin’ warning. Don’t matter. My boot’s right on his neck. Can’t bite if he wanted to. I ponder our mutual situations. Dawn breaks. No Jack, no boat. Finally I see an oar, floatin’ by, lonesome and slow.

    Gets lighter. Mr. Snake slows his squirming, like he’s contemplating circumstances. I hear the guards splashin’ through the marsh. Gettin’ closer. Reachin’ down by my foot, the side away from Mr. Snake’s mouth, I grab as close to his head as I can, just like Daddy when he was handlin’ snakes at church. Use my other hand to hold his tail, so he can’t rattle. And we wait. When I smell the guard’s cheap cologne, I turn around and smile at him. He smiles back, all proud to catch me. I bid Mr. Snake adieu, toss him at the guard who drops his gun and screams. I run like hell.

    Bayous play fair. I don’t have to.

  2. It wasn’t good. Bobby shuddered at the thought of what…
    “Hey. Grab that, will ya.” It came from the shadows of a fallen giant – branches drifting down to brush the inky surface of the water. He fished the paddle off the swamp and made his way clump to clump until he was standing on the toppled trunk. Jack poled his way over, landing perfectly under Bobby. He hopped down and sat on the fore seat, paddling backward until the boat was once more buried in the thick brush. They both listened, straining to catch the hounds again, but they’d run off.
    “Nice spot” Bobby whispered, marveling at his luck. Jack smiled in the dark, reached under his seat and handed over a flask. It burned real good on the way down. First (and second, and third) drink in six hard months.
    “Got some food, you’re hungry.” Another drink was good enough for now. Safe in the hidden recesses of the still-living cypress, they talked.
    A room waited. Friend or two. Revenge for the past six months would be taken care of first, though. They agreed on that.

  3. The black man had been framed for the murder of that woman. Having spent thirty-five years with the local Sheriff’s Department, I know the South and I know a fabricated case when I see one; that I told the sheriff, but he wasn’t interested, said I was retired, how would I know?

    One morning, the radio had it he’d escaped from a prison transport.

    Fishing out by the swampland that same day, I heard water splashing behind me amid the trees.
    He almost ran right past, turned, glared at me with eyes clear and wide.
    “Get yourself deeper into that marsh,” I told him. “Swim.” I pointed a finger. “Stay hidden among the trees. Ain’t no other way to make it.”
    He was still staring at me when the tumult of his pursuers approached sharply.
    So he ran, as fast as he could in the knee-high water. The group of men, led by Deputy Callahan, were firing after him, missing.
    “What’s the matter with you?” Callahan yelled at me. “Why’n’t you stop him?”
    “Grope a gator,” I said. “I’m not armed. I’m retired.”

    The next day I heard he made it through the swamps all the way to the state line, where he got caught, shot on sight. Here in town it’s said he may have had help. Well…

    There was a time when I would have shot his legs out from under him; bragged about it, too. These days, my conscience is relatively clean.

  4. Imprisoned
    by Michael Seese
    248 words

    The bald cypress can live 1,000 years. That number corresponds exactly with my sentence.

    If I remembered how many people I’ve killed, I might feel some remorse. But I don’t. So I can’t. It’s not in me.

    Killing. That’s in me.

    It’s like a hunger, of sorts. But not quite.

    People speak of watershed moments. That split-second decision which puts you on the left fork, rather than the right. The one which changes the course of your life.


    My watershed moment came the day I spilled her blood. We met at a bar. Naturally. She seemed young, too young. I swear, I swear, I swear that I was about to pay for my beer and leave. I should have.

    But her eyes.

    They were… beyond mesmerizing. They were hypnotizing.

    I walked over and made chat. Soon, we were driving back to her place. She lit candles, incense, then poured two tall glasses of red, and handed me one.

    “Cabernet?” I asked.

    “No,” she said, taking a lusty swig. “Blood.”

    I threw it in her face.

    The lesson? Never cross a voodoo queen.

    One thousand years of imprisonment in the body of the un-dead. Feasting on humans. Not because I want to. Because I have to.

    That’s why I troll the swamps around the LCIW, officially the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women. The escapees are easier to overcome. They’re softer. And desperate, since the LCIW is the state’s female death row.

    Though their brains are messed up, too.

  5. He splashed back into the water and waded over to the oar… half an oar, really. The break was clean, with almost no splinters, and two grooves down the cross-section suggested the oar had been bitten in half.

    What the hell had a mouth large enough to bite through the oar halfway down its length?

    He went back to the cypress, scanning the surroundings as he had been taught in the army all those years back. And that’s when he really noticed the stillness. All motion and sound seemed to be suspended: the wind, the water, the willows… and the hounds.

    He could no longer hear them. He waited for a long time, avoiding swatting at the mosquitoes for spells of time to enable him to hear better. The stillness continued. By now, the hounds should have been in sight, slavering at the closeness to their quarry.

    He eased himself into the water and worked his way west, as agreed with cousin Jack. He found the jon boat 200 yards out with a bag of clothes intended for him. There was no sign of cousin Jack or of what could have happened to him. He reached for it, and there was a whoosh of air from behind him.

    Later in the morning, the search party found the rear half of a hound that appeared to have been bitten clean through. They also found the jon boat with the bag in it. They never found Bobby Dupree.

  6. Bobby hauled himself clear of the muddy swamp water to perch on the roots of a fallen Cyprus tree. He’d waded through the swamp for most of the day and was exhausted. Taking two gasping lung-fulls of air, he focussed on slowing his heart and breathing. As he relaxed, Bobby scanned the nearby water that formed a narrow, winding flow through the trees ahead. This was his domain and he was aware of the dangers; snakes and alligators being the worst, mosquitos the most troublesome.

    This deep in the swamp, the pursuit that had hunted him since his early hours jailbreak, would slow . For a while, the pursuit was over. They’d soon find boats, but before then he would be with Jack and their Jon Boat, putting distance between himself and the sheriff’s men. For now, he had time to rest.

    It was then, that Bobby heard a gentle, rhythmic knocking from a solitary oar, that floated nestled, against the roots on which he rested. Curious, he reached to pluck it from the water, but a glimpse of something stopped him.

    An involuntary gasp escaped his lips.

    Further out a torso, missing head and limbs, floated – a torso clothed in Jack’s coat, now ripped and blooded.

    Confused, head swimming, Jack started to stand, but again a glimpse of something stopped him.

    “Well, the pursuit IS over now,” was Bobby’s final, resigned thought. What swam towards him, jaws wide, was easily the largest alligator he’d ever see.

  7. Shredded wood bobbles in the water near my oasis of dry land. Cousin Jack’s name blazes across what’s left of his johnboat. My heart sinks. He was supposed to meet me here, rescue me from that demented prison.

    “You didn’t really think this little prison break would work, did you, Bobby?” says Warden Carson. “We’ve had this place staked out all week.”

    I spin around. The warden drags Jack’s mangled body from behind the ancient cypress and dumps it on the ground. One of the warden’s hounds sits next to him, Jack’s severed arm clenched in its mouth. I’d had first-hand experience with that hell hound and its friends. Scabs and old burns still decorate my body.

    Tears sting my eyes, but there’s no time to grieve. Turning a blind eye before got me sent away on trumped up charges. Carson had to be stopped. My bare feet press into the island’s soft mud. I was raised in this swamp, know things the warden doesn’t. I reach for the swamp’s pulse, the life that most people don’t notice. Energy surges. The hairs stand up on my arms.

    “Help,” I whisper. “I beseech you.”

    Carson laughs. “Ain’t no one here to help you now, Bobby.”

    But there is. The cypress groans, bends as if struck by a sharp wind. Two moss covered branches swoop down on the warden and his pet. A scream—then nothing. I fall to my knees.

    “The spirit of light protects me. Thank you, mighty S’serpyc.”

  8. The setting sun behind the trees casts black-barred images on the silent backwater. The reflections reach across to the far bank, organic versions of the bars from my cell. As if self-aware, the trees are crowd together, leaning forward like an anxious audience exiting a smoky auditorium. Do they despair to find that, like me, they’re trapped? Elephantine feet are anchored to the swamp by a millennium of mud and silt, just as mortar and concrete anchor their non-sentient cousins to the prison floor. In rigid iron ignorance, the cell’s bars know nothing of confinement, but it seems these trees yearn for freedom.

    The baying of the hounds abates and I wonder if the pursuers lost my trail. A subtle wind wiggles leafy fingers of cypress, but does nothing to cool my sweat-drenched inmate’s stripes. I thank God I’m downwind as I swipe another mosquito from my face.

    My squelching feet suck mud as I look for the boat. It’s not there. My cousin failed me. I have nowhere to go now, without plunging headlong into the deadly stagnant water.

    The long hollow bellow turns my fear to desperation as I make ready to swim for it. “Go…” whisper the trees. “Run while you can!”

    The nearest cypress leaf touches my shoulder encouragingly, and with a last look back I see an oar held in the twigs of its branchy arms. Two green eyes stare from knots in its trunk.
    My cousin’s eyes.

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