Flash Fiction Challenge: Feast of Color

fall mountainside 1997
Fall Mountainside
Photo by K.S. Brooks

Bryson topped the ridge and looked down at the valley, stunned for a moment at the beauty of the resplendent colors.

The air was biting cold and the first snow would not be far off. Bryson knew he would likely die before he could find help, but he had to try.

On the far ridge, he could just make out a thin trail of smoke. In this country, it was as likely to be foe as friend, but he knew he had to do something. His daughter was still with the wagon train. Soon, the convoy would run out of food and the alternatives were grim, though Bryson suspected it wouldn’t be the first time the wagon-master had tasted human flesh.

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!

Entries only in the comment section. Other comments will be deleted. See HERE for additional information and terms.

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11 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Challenge: Feast of Color”

  1. Bryson could not believe that had been less than six months ago. He looked down lovingly at the face of his young daughter sleeping in his lap. He looked up at the face of his young Native American bride who was preparing their meal. He tried to smile at the thought of his baby growing inside of her. His daughter would have a baby brother or sister soon. The thought made him both happy and terrified of what might happen, if things did not go well.

    When he had first struggled into her camp half-dead from hunger and fatigue, he thought he must be in a dream. This graceful young woman – wearing a feast of painted color adorned on her buckskin outfit that rivaled that of the forest – appeared just as shocked. Quickly realizing his emaciated state, he saw kindness rise in her beautiful eyes. She offered him food and water.

    The war party that attacked the wagon train had not been as kind. They had killed the men and had taken the women and children. When he discovered this, he begged her to take him to see their chief.

    Because she was with him, the chief granted him an audience. When he demanded the return of his daughter, the chief responded that only a member of the tribe could make such a demand. His next words were immediate and simple, “What must I do to become a member of your tribe?”

    And once again, she had been kind.

  2. I was a fool when I left St. Joseph by covered wagon. I was a bigger fool for thinking I could go west with my young daughter. And I was a damned fool for doing what I was doing now: Looking for food, and maybe rescue, while my daughter waited back with the wagon master.

    I crested the mountain and looked down. Trees in their autumn dress. I wasn’t sure if it was their beauty or the altitude that took my breath away. Scanning the valley, I wondered how it would look in the coming snow.

    I almost missed the wisp of smoke on the far side of the valley. I could just make out a cabin. I tried to be quiet as I made my way to it. Holding my breath, I hid, waiting for someone, anyone to come out the door.

    The shadows lengthened, and I was about to come out of hiding when a woman came out, drying her hands on a cloth. No. It couldn’t be. I revealed myself to her with a question: “Elizabeth?”

    “Oh Bryson! You finally made it!”

    “But how can you—I mean, we buried you in St. Joe!”

    “Now Bryson, that’s just silly. Did you bring Virginia with you??

    “No, she’s back with the wagons…”

    “Bryson, what is wrong with you? There she is!”

    I followed my dead wife’s gaze, turned around, and saw my daughter’s hand, reaching up through the rich forest soil.

  3. Bryson followed the trail down to the cabin – hoping for a kind face and some food that he could bring back to the wagon train where his daughter was waiting. As he approached, his heart lurched when he realized the smoke wasn’t just from a chimney – but that the cabin was smoldering – walls fallen in. Inside he saw the dead settlers – arrows through their bodies. He was in a panic now and knew he had to get back to the wagon train and his daughter to warn them. He hurried back just as he heard the war cries of the Native Americans. He spotted the wagons in a circle, men firing guns. He knew he had to rejoin the group no matter what – they would need his gun. As he tried to find a way to creep through the line of warriors- he heard another sound coming from far off; hoofbeats and the blare of horns. A rescue party of soldiers from a fort he didn’t know was even nearby. As the sound grew louder – the warriors all turned and galloped off. There was a chance now they would make it.

  4. Hard to tell now whether the trails of smoke rising from the radioactive forest before it belong to other survivors or just another explosion. Not that it matters. Nothing survives in there. Then again, I’m not sure if any of us are really safe out here either-

    “Pa?” The familiar voice comes from a face briefly hidden by a cloud of ice. If I try hard enough I can pretend that the face doesn’t belong to my daughter, that she’s someplace better and that she didn’t have to live in this hell we created. “The wagon-master’s calling for you.”

    “Well, I suppose I better go see him then. You go play.” I walk away before she can ask me with whom.

    The walk to the wagon is always a long one. I know what’s he’s going to say. He’s going to tell me that we’re running out of food, that we need a solution. And the both of us know what the solution he’s talking about is.

    I pass the “new” Statue of Liberty. A sad, pathetic pile of sticks and stones in an attempt to recreate the civilisation we had so long ago. A civilisation where other people were simply, well, people, instead of what we look at them as now.

    I finally reach the wagon, and as the wagon-master gives me the same look I have seen too many times before, I say a silent prayer that my daughter never finds out why she plays alone.

  5. “…but the father died before he found his daughter,” Camryn whispered into my ear. “The other settlers ate him to survive. His ghost haunts these woods. Boooooo!” She wiggled her fingers in my face.

    I slapped her hands. “Cut it out, goof.” Giggling, she skipped back to the troop’s tent. I focused on earning my science badge, the last gap on my sash.

    “Be right back,” I yelled and disappeared into the forest.

    The crisp fall air filled my nostrils. Walking, I stared up at the vibrant canopy. A single leaf floated to the ground at my feet. Burnt sienna and chestnut like the crayons in my pocket. Perfectly symmetrical netted veins. I unclipped tweezers from my belt and carefully placed the leaf into a baggie.

    A boot crunched on the forest floor in front of me. I raised my head and saw him. Grey clothes, tarnished buttons and torn sleeves. Strips of flesh hung from his arms. A missing chunk of his cheek left a dark hole beneath his eye. He watched me.

    Gasping, I tumbled backwards. Before I could flee, he reached for me. His mouth formed a silent plea. His eyes were sad and worried.

    “It’s ok,” I told him. “They taught me how to survive. I can make a lean-to, forage for pine-nuts. I’ll be fine.”

    The man nodded, smiled, vanished.

    Back at the tent, Camryn lurched toward me like a cannibal. “Must… eat…” she moaned.

    I opened a cardboard box. “Have a cookie.”

  6. Cold air lashed the treetops across the ridge from where he stood. The leaves in ocher, yellow and bright red swayed, looking to Bryson as if they were ablaze.

    Bryson planned never to return here, but the late summer rains swept away the bridge over the ravine to the South and the party had no choice but to strike the gap through the hills where he grew up.

    It would have been a quick passage, but when two wheels on the same wagon shattered and no wheelwrights were in the party, he was forced to trod through the familiar woods in search of some help.

    The few leaves that had thus fallen on the deer trace he found had been swept clean by the does and the bucks in rut that chased them. He moved silently as he loaded powder and shot.

    He was pleased with himself at returning to the old ways until he heard the clack of a hammer being pulled back on a rifle nearby. He berated himself at forgetting about the high tree stands which littered the forest.

    He stopped and without looking up, asked aloud, “There still a bounty on my head?”

    “Depends on if’n you’re Bryson Blaze or not,” a hoarse voice answered.

    He pulled back his own hammer and said, “Too bad for you.”

    “Too bad you don’t remember the few friends you have ’round here, Blaze.” The voice replied.

    A rogue’s smile crept upon his lips as he asked, “That you, Colson?”

  7. Round and round.

    The picture was little comfort. Nora pushed a button and the image faded. She knew that forest, knew it like the back of her hand; knew that it was more than pixels of scarlet and gold; knew the richness that hid within, the endless cycle of birth and decay.

    City folk sat by the lake idling away their summer weekends and ignoring the forest at their backs. Their senses dulled as empty bottles filled the recycle bin.

    The tourists knew nothing of winter’s snowy silence. In that ivory world, the forest wrote her stories large: a fox’s tracks approached those of a rabbit. The strides lengthened. A twist, a turn and then a scarlet stain upon the snow.

    Nora knew.

    She knew the raucous call of ragged V’s of geese responding to spring’s imperative. She knew a hundred delicate shades of green as the trees clothed themselves anew.

    In summer there was the sweet-tart burst wild strawberries and the rich, fecund smell of the bogs that nestled in rocky hollows.

    Now it was autumn. Round and round.

    Nora longed to hear dry leaves crumble under her feet and feel the pinprick of the first snowflake on her cheek.

    Tomorrow would be winter again.

    At 99% of light speed each season back on Earth lasted only a day aboard ship. Why had she come? Nora tried to winnow the truth from the excuses she gave herself.

    Round and round.

  8. “Fall Fire”
    by Michael Seese
    248 words

    Damn those stupid municipal ordinances. Especially those that outlaw perfectly reasonable activities, like burning leaves.

    “Fall foliage.” The words roll off the tongue so much more smoothly than “autumn arboriage.” Who among us does not maintain a little alcove in our special warm place for memories of fall, and all the crispy, colorful beauty associated with it?

    As we get older, Christmas begins to lose its wondrous and magical appeal. But fall remains pure, unsullied by crass commercialism.

    I grew up surrounded by acres of woodlands. So many Saturday mornings were devoted to the ritual of raking leaves. Collect them on a huge blue tarp. Drag it to the back of the lot. Repeat, until the yard was clean. Sprinkle a bit of gasoline. Ignite. And enjoy.

    Year after year after year.

    My father could have asked the landscapers to do it. But he wanted me to.

    “It’s good exercise.”
    “It builds character.”
    “You have to work for everything in life.” (Even though he didn’t; he inherited his fortune from Grandpa.)

    Yes, how ironic that my father believed you had to earn everything.

    Even love.

    That’s probably why Mom left him, and all that money, behind. I wasn’t willing to do that.

    In some ways I miss those days. I suppose I’ll miss my father some day, too.

    Damn those stupid municipal ordinances. Especially those that outlaw perfectly reasonable activities, like burning leaves.

    It sure will take a long time to dispose of a body in the fireplace.

  9. A chill wind catches my frozen breath and whisks it away. I shiver, but not from cold. Something about our wagon-master isn’t right. The rabid cougar that took down two horses and a man last week didn’t faze him. With all our other delays it’s too late to traverse the mountains. Food already runs low. If I don’t find help soon, my daughter and the rest of the wagon train will die. Our only hope hangs on the thin wisp of smoke I spotted across the valley this morning.

    The forest is silent as I enter a large clearing carpeted with red and gold leaves. Wood is piled high on the perimeter. A deer slowly rotates unaided over a fire. My stomach flips even as my mouth waters. Was this built by friends or foes? My daughter’s life hangs on the answer. I’m afraid to move forward, yet can’t go back.

    “Don’t be afraid.”

    I spin around. A man with silver-blue eyes stands at my side. Garbed all in green, feathers and leaves weave through his long braids.

    “Who are you?” My voice shakes.

    “Not your enemy. This circle will keep all of you safe until spring.”

    With a shaky hand I point to the deer. “How?”

    “Magic. The Devourer leads your group to his feeding grounds. We will stop him.”

    My gaze drifts. When I look back the man is gone. Silver-blue eyes study me from a huge gray wolf. It nods, then lopes away.

  10. The sea of color laid before her calmed her spirit as she stood on the rocky ridge. Just beyond the ledge, the reds, oranges and golds, with splashes of evergreen could be seen in every direction, as far as the eye could see. A whisp of smoke, marking where her cabin was nestled, arose from the base of the ridge, drifting upward to the exposed rock. A gentle breeze played against her face, pulling the loose strands of hair back and away. It had taken several hours to reach the ridge, but it was worth it.

    “This is what I needed”, she announced, taking in a deep breath of the crisp, fresh air. Her mind had been racing all week, trying to find a way to circumvent the inevitable. She had escaped to the mountains to think things through. The hike had begun it’s magic, uncluttering her thoughts.

    An answer would be required upon returning home tomorrow—along with an explanation. She cringed. Still vacillating back and forth, weighing the pros and cons, the answer played hide and seek.

    Stepping ever closer to the edge, she shouted to the heavens. “I give up!” A forceful rush of cold air pushed her back from the edge. She tripped over a rock, falling backwards onto the hard surface.

    “Fine. You win.” She’d found her answer.

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