Flash Fiction Challenge: Claim Jumper

River in Winter
River in Winter
Photo by K.S. Brooks

I had hoped to catch up with DeBurgh at the river, but there was no sign of him. Somehow, he had managed to cross that icy flow. With a half-day’s head start he was bound to beat me down to Yellow Jack and file his claim first.

All the work of these past months would be for nothing. The gold would all belong to DeBurgh.

Resigned to defeat, I sat down heavily on a snow-covered boulder, or what I had taken to be a boulder…

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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12 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Challenge: Claim Jumper”

  1. The Crossing

    The winter sun was low on the horizon as I gazed across the icy expanse of the river I had yet to cross. My quarry had a half-day lead; I was exhausted. The waist-deep snow through the forest and sub-zero temperatures, along with the sparse rations, had sapped my meger reserves. I dug into the snowdrift along the bank of the river. A short rest and then I’d find a shallow part of the river to transverse. The sharp sting of the cold had long before stopped and I feared the worst for my toes. Shadows settled at the base of the trees, their tops bathed in a cold, blue light. I gathered moss and pinecones for kindling. The warmth of the small fire gave me a renewed energy.

    I followed the moon-lit path along the river’s course, searching in vain. The Northern Lights danced along the top of the ridge. With night firmly settled in, I forged onward, determined to see this through to the end. Should my foe reach our destination before me, it would all be in for no. The wind bit into my cheeks, no longer felt. I stumbled, landing hard on my knees, hands buried deep in the dry powder.

    The river flowed on, as I struggled to my feet falling again. Heaven’s splendour mutely dancing above, oblivious to my fate. As I listen to the river, I am filled with a sense of calmness and solitude. Alone, with the river and heavens.

  2. I’d barely gotten my butt down on the snow-covered rock when it seized upwards. It shot up nearly five feet from the ground. I slid off, into the glacial river. My heart pounded as the icy water rushed over me. I was going to die here. All for some gold. I probably deserved it – letting greed drive me.

    But then, suddenly, I was scooped from the rapids. I opened my eyes to see a polar bear standing over me on the embankment.

    “You didn’t even say excuse me,” he said.

    “Sorry.” What? I had to be dying of hypothermia or something, because I was definitely hallucinating. “Um, polar bears can’t talk.”

    “Who says?”

    “Um…” You know? I couldn’t answer that.

    “Don’t know, do ya? Skiddledee bop bop.” He wiggled his butt. “Balloo talked in the Jungle Book, didn’t he? That’s a true story, ya know.”

    Yup, I was dying. A polar bear who reads Rudyard Kipling. Uh huh.

    “What in tarnation are you doing out here?”

    “Trying to beat DeBurgh to the gold. But he’s way ahead of me.” I shivered.

    “Was he a short guy, smelled kinda like cheese?”

    “Yeah! You saw him go by?”

    “He was a rude little runt. I ate him. His clothes are over there. You should probably get out of your wet ones and put his on. Then I’ll give you a ride to the gold.”

    “For real?”

    “Yeah, sure, why not?”

    “You’re not going to eat me?”

    “Nah, that cheesy dude gave me indigestion.” He burped.

  3. Rest in Peace Aunt Minnie

    That morning, Aunt Minnie fell into the wretched river that slogged its way through the God-forgot-it wasteland of Armpit Tundra where some yahoo discovered gold and was stupid enough to Tweet about it and lure one thousand other yahoos up from the States where (in some places) it was warm and dry and where a kind wives named Ruth or Sue cooked a pot roast in the kitchen while the man of the house (that used to be me) drank hot toddies next to the fireplace.

    Truth be told, Aunt Minnie, who always told me I’d be the death of her, turned out to be a prophet. Worse yet, she was almost claim jumper. She planned to run like a bat out of hell, jumping from ice floe to ice floe across Armpit River and steal my last pint of whiskey, my ineffective camp fire and the $28,000 in gold nuggets hdiden in a Maxwell House coffee.

    Her next to last words were, “Billy Boy, have you found any gold?”

    “It’s in the can.”

    “Ye gods, Billy Boy, this river’s colder than a witch’s.”

    She died with her boots on, her sentiment unfinished. I shed no tears because they’d just freeze over and distort my vision of Minnie watching me from her solitary ice floe until the spring thaw carried her away.

    “One stiff to another, Minnie, rest in peace.”

    Her frozen pout warmed my heart.

  4. He barely twitched, but I knew immediately. DeBurgh was below me. I stepped back in the half-darkness and I could see him lying there. His poncho covered him and when he rolled over I saw the blood and bruising on the side of his face. His eyes shone recognition at me as he shook with cold. A moment. Two moments. I did not move. He grunted, trying to speak and gestured with his beaten head toward his arm. I looked back at the mountainside and even in the darkness I could see how he’d fallen and rolled toward the river.
    Somehow he managed to get the words out. “Help me.”
    I thought of the months spent working side by side, the camaraderie, the shared joy when we struck the mother lode, and finally, the betrayal. I reached down and placed my hand on his forehead. He smiled and his shivering body relaxed. I slid my hands behind him and grabbed onto his coat and pulled him toward the water. He dug his legs into the ground trying to drag, but there was little fight left in the man. As we reached the side of the water it took no effort to pull him over the edge.
    I looked out at the river as his body submerged for the last time. Even in the darkness I could see a sparkle as the waves fought against each other. It was quite beautiful – almost golden the way the moonlight reflected on the water.

  5. Three months, wasted. DeBurgh was probably already at the Yellow Jack surveyor’s office filing his claim. All the gold I’d worked so hard to find would be his. I kicked a snow drift. Icy powder blew into my face. Damned the wind and damned the half-frozen river blocking my path. DeBurgh must have had a raft. How else could he have crossed the rushing water?

    I slumped onto a snow covered bolder by the water’s edge and pulled out the other tiny nugget I’d coaxed to the surface. My way didn’t disturb the mountain’s balance like other miners. DeBurgh planned to rip the mountain down, destroy every living creature. That monster left me to die, hog-tied deep in a cave. He took off with my prized nugget. I shoved its smaller cousin deep into my pocket. The mountain rescued me.

    As I stepped away my foot caught on something. I landed in a snowy heap. A few choice words left my lips before I saw what I’d tangled with. My mouth went dry. Vines tightly bound a familiar pair of boots and hands. DeBurgh’s ring gleamed on a blackish finger. My hands shook as I dusted off my ‘boulder.’ More vines twined around his body like a cocoon. Stuffed in his mouth, like an apple in a roast pig, sat the orange sized nugget I’d sung from the earth. My gold. I glanced side to side, just barely catching the mountain’s eyes watching me. No, not mine, ours.

  6. The boulder moved! It was DeBurgh!
    I quickly brushed away the new fallen snow. He had slipped on the ice, fallen badly and broken his leg. I saw that frostbite had already started on his face and hands. He was still alive but barely. There lie the man, who only hours ago, had viciously knocked me on the head so that he could lay sole claim to our newfound fortune.

    Now was my chance. All I had to do is make my way down river to a safer crossing. There was no hurry now. Without my help DeBurgh would surely die. No one else would happen by in this wilderness. Why should I help this man? Sure, we had been best friends since childhood. Until we made this strike there had been hardly a cross word between us in the twenty-two years we been partners. It is funny how a million dollars in gold changes everything.

    Before leaving, I kneel down to adjust my snowshoes. DeBurgh moans and I chuckle to myself, “You’re the one who ended this partnership. You are one your own now, buddy.”

    He moans again. This time so loudly it startles me.


  7. The kids on the front row raised their hands first, eager to answer the question. Miss Beth scanned the class until her eyes set on Yannick whose stare was locked on his desk on the back.
    “Yannick?” said Miss Beth. “You never raise your hand. Why don’t you answer for us?”
    Yannick gulped. “I didn’t raise my hand, because I didn’t want to answer.”
    Miss Beth cocked an eyebrow. “Fine.” She picked someone else.
    She doesn’t know, thought Yannick. How could she possibly know?
    It happened a year ago. Yannick and Sam raced against each other, their boots crunching in the sparkling Canadian snow. Yannick had to catch Sam which was easier said than done, because of how much taller his friend was in comparison.
    Sam neared a river. The ice glimmered under the sun.
    Yannick stopped to catch his breath. “Don’t go there, Sam. Mom said not to go near it.”
    Sam smiled. “Well if you don’t, you’ll never catch me!”
    Yannick never forgot the images of Sam running on the ice yelling “catch me” and the moment when the ice cracked and his foot sunk in the ice and when his whole body fell in too.
    “Help!” had shouted Sam.
    Sam raised his mittened hand.
    Yannick stepped on the edge and the ice creaked. He got too scared to grab Sam’s hand and ran away.
    “Does anyone know the answer?” asked Miss Beth.
    I am done running away, thought Yannick.
    He raised his hand.

  8. “Dagnabit.” Just then Roscoe shook his blanket and snow went everywhere.

    “What on earth are you doing hiding?” I asked.

    “I heard someone coming, so I put in behind these here rocks until they were gone. But when you sat down on me I couldn’t help but jump up.”

    “You were suppose to keep watch. Which way did DeBurgh go?”

    “Across the river.”

    “All we can do now is pray we find a way to beat Deburgh to town. If we don’t, then all our hard work will be for naught, the gold will be his, and our dreams will vanish. I’m a fool to have listened to him.”

    I climbed back into my saddle and said to Roscoe, “Get your horse. We’ve got some hard riding to do.”

    After crossing the frigid river on horseback, and riding at lightening speed for close to ten miles, we finally arrived at the road just outside of Yellow Jack.

    “His horse is at the saloon”, Roscoe said. “We are too late. He is celebrating already.”

    I was not going to give up without a fight. DeBurgh was staggering out of the saloon as I was pushing on the doors. He turned and we were face to face. I was fuming mad. When DeBurgh realized it was me he began to smile. Before I could say a word he blurted out “Partner” at the top of his booze soaked lungs, reached into his pocket, and handed me my copy of the claim.

  9. The ice-cold water rushes by me in a hurry to get somewhere, maybe to try and get warm. I wish I could be at home in front of the fire, but instead I am stuck here to do this stupid dare.

    Maybe, just maybe, I’ll die first so I don’t have to do it, I know I will end up with hypothermia. May as well get this over with I think, running through all the mental prep.

    I find a slow part of the river to climb into. I shiver through my wetsuit. I pull out the waterproof camera and start the video shivering and with chattering teeth.

    “I’m here thanks to a dare. I’m doing this to prove that I’m not scared, now that I am here I realize that this may be my last farewell, so before I let go of the rock and head down the river, possibly to my death, I want to say goodbye.”

    I take a deep breath, coughing and choking on the snow in the air. I let go of the rock and start to move down the river, pointing the camera forward.

    I pick up speed and then I hit something. I lose my balance and hit the water, hard. The camera goes flying and I don’t even have time to scream. I fight the current but I can’t fight the cold as it starts to set in. Black invades my vision and I can’t hear or feel anything. So cold.

  10. …until a loud snap and a tumble backwards into the freezing waters told me otherwise.

    Gathering myself back up on my feet, there a wooden box lay which had split open under my weight. I snapped away a couple broken pieces and there inside to my utter astonishment was, MY GOLD! My heart felt as though it would stop beating as I picked up one nugget, then another, then a whole fist full. 428 beautiful nuggets of gold which DeBurgh and I spent months mining for in every water way this side of San Francisco.

    With box of gold in tow, in a shallow spot in the river, I made my way across and headed toward the valley and then only a few miles on to Yellow Jack. My mind raced thinking of my Mable and our four girls back home. How happy they would be to see papa returning after two seasons, and maybe with a new team and wagon! Adrenalin gave new life to my worn and tired body as I continued down the valley with my treasure.

    Swinging the heavy wooden box up on the counter at Yellow Jack’s claim station, I exclaimed, “Got 428 nuggets here boys. Weigh em up please.”

    She’s going to love it, I thought as I safely tucked the store bought hanky back into my coat pocket. I thought briefly of DeBurgh, as the new team and wagon carried me eastwardly.

  11. The body had grown stiff with cold and rigors. Strange how I hadn’t noticed it at first. DeBurgh’s mule, what was left of it anyway. A broken leg and snapped neck from a fall down the side of the mountain, by the look of it.

    No way he could have gotten too far ahead of me after all. The question remained, did he fall with the beast or manage to run ahead. By the riverside the mule wouldn’t be useful anymore anyway.

    I scanned the frozen rocks for signs, any signs. Sure enough, I found it. Drops of blood on some rocks near the water’s edge. I followed them ahead to be sure. The trail laid sparingly on the rocks beside the river, though still heading toward town.

    The blood loss would surely slow him down. How far could he have gotten, I pushed ahead across the rocky streamside.

    I found him, about a mile down river. DeBurgh lay in a heap at the water’s edge. He had crawled along, his bleeding leg drug behind him for the last hundred yards before his collapse. I thought to leave him there. Served him right for trying to jump my claim and all. But I couldn’t, not just leave him there.

    “Still breathing…” I cursed under my breath. He didn’t answer me but it was enough. I cursed my soft heart as I strapped him to the back of my mule. He’d lose the leg, but I’d keep the mine.

  12. As I sat on the snow-covered boulder, it seemed to give a little under my weight—something rocks generally didn’t do, in my experience. I hopped up, nearly falling into the icy river, and prodded the boulder with my rifle. It definitely yielded a bit.

    It took just a few seconds of brushing off the snow to discover that the rock was, in fact, a bundle of animal hides, all trussed up and ready to go to market. My instincts went into high alert. No one would abandon such a valuable lot.

    Scanning up toward the tree line, I saw a half-dozen “boulders” of a similar shape and size, and cautiously followed the path they made into a small clearing. Even before sweeping the snow from the last mound, I knew it was very different from the others—longer, lower, more man-shaped.

    The sight was grisly. Something much bigger, much stronger than the trapper, with much sharper teeth and claws, had extracted revenge for its fellows. My only hope lay in a prayer that the animal was now hibernating.

    Turning away, I began scrabbling for earth and loose stones to cover the mutilated body when another find presented itself: a raft just large enough for me and the parcels.

    DeBurgh may be miles ahead of me, but the trading post where I could sell these pelts was miles closer than Yellow Jack.

    Let him have the claim that may or may not pan out. Me? I’ll take the sure thing.

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