Flash Fiction Writing Prompt: Mirage

great sand dunes natl park
Photo copyright K. S. Brooks. Do not use without attribution.

Use the photograph above as the inspiration for your flash fiction story. Write whatever comes to mind (no sexual, political, or religious stories, jokes, or commentary, please) and after you PROOFREAD it, submit it as your entry in the comments section below. There will be no written prompt.

Welcome to the Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction Challenge. In 250 words or less, write a story incorporating the elements in the picture at left. 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. Need help getting started? Read this article on how to write flash fiction.

On Wednesday afternoon, we will open voting to the public with an online poll so they may choose the winner. Voting will be open until 5:00 PM Thursday. On Saturday morning, the winner will be recognized as we post the winning entry along with the picture as a feature.

Once a month, the admins will announce the Editors’ Choice winners. Those stories 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. Please note the rule changes for 2016.

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18 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Writing Prompt: Mirage”

  1. “We’re done for,” Harry gasped, staring at the ridge in the distance, and the horde of Indians lining it.
    “What’re you talking about, private?”
    “There’s too many of them, we can’t possibly beat them all,” Harry said.
    “Too many of whom?” Lieutenant Greene signalled his men to stop while he looked around for some sign of who Harry was talking about.
    “The Indians, there must be thousands of the buggers.”
    “What Indians?” Puzzled, Greene continued to search their surroundings, his hand up to shade his eyes from the blazing sun that left everything coated with a shimmering haze. “All I see is us, and a whole load of nothing.”
    “Are you blind? They’re right there, up on the ridge; they must have seen us by now, it’s just a matter of time ‘fore they come and finish us off.”
    Greene studied the ridge for several long seconds before turning his attention to his subordinate to study him. “There’s nobody there, Harry,” he said. “You’re losing your mind. The heat’s driving you mad. Have some water.” He held out his canteen, knowing that there wasn’t much in it, and that if they didn’t find a water source soon they would all be going thirsty.
    “There is, thousands of them, just watching us, can’t you see them?”
    “It’s just your imagination, Harry, the heat playing tricks on you.”

  2. The view from my window.
    Beautiful, isn’t it? A vast expanse of cactus-encrusted desert, capped with a mountain range towering into the blue sky. And beyond — wide plateaus of verdant green farm land, fast-running brooks, towns — finally, cities with skyscrapers and millions of people enjoying: FREEDOM.
    Freedom. This is the view from my window and I enjoy it every day.
    And yet…it’s a mirage. There is no freedom for me.
    This is the view from my cell window where I’ll spend what’s left of my life.

  3. The first night I met him, his eyes were manic. They darted around the room as if looking for a way out. He spoke in clipped spurts about his life and chose words with rugged abandon. Still, when he offered these truncated snippets of his travels, you could smell the sweat in the air and taste the sand between your teeth.

    He amplified the ordinary when he spoke. Sometimes he’d be so enraptured by his own tale, his eyes would roll back and spit would shoot from between his teeth like warning shots over the bough. And while I was always skeptical at first, by the end of his performances, he’d have even me considering the possibilities. One night though, he noticed otherwise.

    “You don’t believe me, do you?” he asked me.

    “It’s not that,” I unconvincingly replied.

    “What is it then?” he sniffed.

    I brushed off his continued inquires, trying desperately to redirect him. Finally, as if recognizing a breach in my will, he invited me to join him on his next excursion. Before I could consider accepting, he turned from me and walked directly into the street. Even as swerving cars raced by him with frantic lights and screaming horns, his shirt tails flapping wickedly with each bursting gust, he moved gracefully. He toed the double yellow line gingerly and pivoted back towards me with a bemused smile.

    Now, here I was standing in the middle of nowhere without him, wondering if I made the right choice.

  4. He dove into the crystal blue sea, loving the silky warm feeling of the water as it slid over his shoulders. Eyes close while he takes a swallow of life-giving water, then executes a graceful roll to float on his back. At that moment, a part of his primitive mammalian brain pulls something from its long storage. Memories of floating in the similarly comforting amniotic fluid of his mother’s womb, just before descending out into the bright light of the cruel world and taking his first breath. Wishing he had never left that blissful place, his eyes burn from both unshed tears and the blinding light penetrating his eyelids. Pondering for a moment whether he was still just a newborn and every other part of his wretched life is just an elaborate dream, his eyelids flutter open to find the sun burning overhead. A gritty taste in his mouth and the presence of circling vultures tell him the reality of the situation. Rather than beginning a new life, this one was coming to an end. Spitting out sand with the little saliva he had remaining, Henry rolled to his stomach, stuck his hands into the hot earth and tried to crawl back into the memories of his mother’s womb.

  5. That’s my vessel under the trees, shiny and newly stamped with the honors of a maiden voyage. I am the first that I know of to leave Alzano, a beautiful lush land drowning under the collective, humid breath of five million Alzanites. We are one giant organism of which I am just a spore. It wasn’t difficult to know what had to be done. Stories abound of others who have left, but no one can remember the details, so they are just myths. No one has ever returned.

    The auto navigatior worked flawlessly. I landed in a paradise of rocky outcrops, sparse vegetation and windswept seas of sand. But a malfunction, perhaps a breach or defect in my armor, caused a power fluctuation that shorted the communications relay. No way for me to tell my family that I’d made the journey safely, that I’d found salvation for us.

    The bitter cold darkness strips more energy than this sun can replenish during daylight hours.
    There is singing in the distance, over the horizon, but I see nothing. I strain to make out faint figures in the dusk. Perhaps foolishly, I break the tether to my vessel to reach these others. Moving is difficult. I sing loudly, hoping the others will come to me instead. Slowly I find anything not metallic begins to dissipate with the wind, until even I am but a wisp, a mirage in the dunes, howling but unheard.

  6. Outsiders think it is the best thing ever. A huge spectacular sand dune, with its fancy swirls and shifting sands. A dune worthy of a world class desert, right in the middle of our formerly flat and featureless state. Time was when you could see all the way to the state border, hundreds of miles away. But that was before the dune. Now you have this monstrous pile of sand looming over you, restricting your view, enclosing you, crushing you.

    Outsiders don’t know what it was like before. They want to see the dune up close. So I drive them, an easy 10 minutes over gravel and dirt. I park at the base, and they Ohh and Ahh. Sometimes they’ll pile off the jeep and try climbing it. Sometimes they’ll collect a little bit of sand for a souvenir.

    Then, as we head back, I enlighten them as to how the dune came to be.

    “It was originally a garbage dump,” I say. “Hundreds of tons of garbage, and it would have been hundreds more, but people began to protest. So sand was trucked in and piled over the garbage, and the dump forgotten.”

    They sit with their mouths open as I recite my story. Then they say “Wow! What a story!” and hand over $50.00 for the trip, with a good tip thrown in. Once again I have failed to get the reaction I wanted.

    My story only added to the charm of the dune.

  7. The Sands of Time in a Bottle. (Apologies to Jim Croce)

    “It was found last week, Henry. In an old coke bottle of all things. Out in Death Valley. Have a read. There’s a story here and I thought it might spark some interest. And put on the gloves.”

    I squeezed into the surgical gloves and Sam Beasley handed me the piece of paper. Crinkled,
    fragile, a message from the long ago.

    Dusk and dusty,
    The smooth sweep of sandstone,
    Curving like the small of her back,
    The smooth bend, sloping skin-down,
    The sand of gold runs in my blood,
    But there is no life there.

    Peter Bradley Walker-poet, treasure hunter and prospector. June 21 1947-I think.

    “So, who was this Walker, Sam?”

    “That took a bit of doing, Henry. The War Department confirmed that he was demobbed in ’45. Seems like he had an…how shall I say…an awkward War experience.”


    “Well, he was drafted. Could have gone Conscientious but didn’t declare. Scared, probably. Did basic, went overseas and then melted like wax in his first firefight. Guess the old saying has some meaning.”

    “Old saying?”

    “All a poet can do is warn…”

    “New to me.”
    “Guy named Wilf Owen. Poet. Anyway, Walker apparently had a Confederate lineage…lost Confederate Gold…that and his anti-war stance…went looking for the treasure. Now I imagine his bones are bleaching out there. Picked clean.”

    I had to hand it to Sam.

    There was a story here. He’d appealed to my inner Journalistic vulture.

  8. The painted dunes reflected the scorching heat tormenting my dehydrated body. My staggering camel would be dead before we reached the oasis. Poor beast. I think I will succumb soon after.
    Just weeks ago, Ramizah, the Sultans immodest granddaughter, approached me while I was entertaining the hotel’s bored piano bar patrons. My fingers were slowly plunking Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine” with a new rhythmic beat I had devised. As my cigarette dangled from my lips, I slurred some of the lyrics. She came up from behind and slid her feathered boa across the back of my neck. Her see-through gown aroused me.
    The following morning she promised we’d caravan into the desert for a surprise. She kept her promise.
    It took three days to reach the tented gathering. A handful of her friends greeted us. We spent hours drinking and dancing. Ramizah pulled me, in a drunken stupor, to a makeshift altar. I heard her muttering to promise, love and obey. I mumbled “I do,” and passed out.
    When I woke, I was lying in the shade of a snorting camel. No tent. Deserted. A note, pinned to my underwear, read “Hope enjoy self. Thank for marry. Now I go America no problem. You dead soon. If no, sorry.”
    Days later, I reached the oasis and crawled into its refreshing waters.
    Planning my revenge while humming my favorite Cole Porter song, I yearned for a Baldwin or Steinway and a cigarette.

  9. I made a chocolate mousse that looked just like that one time. Well the finished mousse was different, but the part where I had to mix egg whites with cocoa powder was identical. Yes, yes, please don’t mention food, I know, you’ve told me before. Several stern warnings now. Nothing to worry about though. I’m sure there’s something to eat beyond that chocolate mousse mountain. Or that cocoa infused meringue hill over there. What’s the first thing you’re going to eat if we ever get out of this desert? Me, fries and gravy. Ow, why did you throw sand in my eyes?

  10. Ed looked up from trying to repair the old Viking 2 lander when he saw her atop the nearby Martian dune. Only this time, she was dressed in a silky red dress, which clung to her body like a tight fitting surgeon’s glove. She had to be the most beautiful blond that the young ensign had ever seen. With every single sultry step she took down the side of the Martian dune, she drew more seductive to Ed.

    Ed’s voice crackled over the receiver more labored than before, “Base! Base! Come in Base! She’s back! She’s wearing a gorgeous red dress this time.”

    “Sir, Ed see’s her again, she’s back. Sir, I’m worried, his heart rate is going through the roof, and his oxygen level is tanking.”

    Ed’s helmit crackled with the Captain’s voice, “Ed! Ed! Can you hear me? She’s just a mirage! Ignore her! Your hyperventilating! Try to relax! Over.”

    Slowly, Ed responded, “But her lips are so red, she is so beautiful, sir. She is almost right next to me now, beckoning me for a kiss.”

    “Ed! Ed! She’s not real! Do not remove your helmet! That’s an order! Ed! Help is on the way!”

    The rescue crew found Ed with his helmet off, “Hanson to Base. We found Ed, Sir! He removed his helmet, but there is something odd about his body? There are red lipstick kisses all over the outside of his visor, and one … on his cheek? Over.”

  11. So this is the end. Once a thriving grassland now turned to savanna. Nobody imagined the transformation would’ve occurred this quickly, just a few weeks after the traveller’s curse… Damn foreigners.

    They have no respect for the words of the mystic, and now look what their carelessness have wrought on us! My dad tells me we can weather this misfortune; that there are plenty of examples in the holy texts about the sand unleashing its wrath, only to spare the faithful in the end.

    We are a pious family, after all, he tells us. Only, as I stand to gaze over the now dead landscape, I cannot help but feel despair upon my view. The sand creeping menacingly closer, suffocating the grass beneath my feet.

    I fear this will be the last time I’ll see of my homeland, habitable and lush.

  12. “Damn it, Joe. We’ve been searching for hours. That pet of yours could be anywhere.”

    Joe bit his lip as he scanned the landscape. “She’s just playing hide and seek. We’ll find her.”

    Billy wiped the sweat from his face. “No we won’t. That chameleon could be right in front of us and we wouldn’t see it. You should never have let it outside.”

    “Wasn’t right to keep her locked up. Creature like that needs to fly.”

    “Well it flew alright, probably into the next county. Let them deal with it.”

    “I’m not giving up.”

    “Well I’m hot, tired, and I’ve seen at least four disappearing ponds. I need a drink.”

    “Let’s just check the next few sand dunes. She’s got to be close.” He gave a shrill whistle and trudged up the next sandy slope. “Come on baby, where are you? Come to papa.”

    “Get real, Joe. It’s a bloody reptile, not a dog.”

    Joe felt heat flush his face. He glared at Billy. “She’s smarter than any dog.”

    “Not even close. My…what the….”

    Sand shifted under Billy’s feet, and he tumbled down the dune. A pair of fist sized golden orbs peered at Joe, then Billy’s prone figure. Rows of jagged teeth appeared and a rumbling laugh filled the air.

    “There’s my little Mirage,” said Joe. Her tail thrashed back and forth as he scratched behind her leathery wing. “You showed him who’s smarter. Great camouflage.”

    Billy sighed. “You win, but you’re concept of size is really skewed.”

  13. She felt the heat of the blazing sun on her freckled tanned skin as she drove her convertible silver Ford Mustang on an empty stretch of highway. The dry, hot wind sent her thinning blend of straight white and blond tendrils dancing around her chiseled face, her crow’s feet more defined as she squinted from the brightness. Age had robbed her of the supple fleshy skin of her youth. Where is it? She searched her mind trying to remember the name of the short side road her father took forty years ago. Rollins Road? She entered the street name in her GPS. Nothing! For her twelfth birthday, they spent two clear and warm summer nights under the stars talking about school and boys. The big dipper, the small dipper, the seven sisters. She recalled his lesson in constellations.

    She drove hours turning down the wrong roads. I’m never going to find it. The hot wind evaporated the scant tears of frustration from her cheeks. The sun would set in just one hour. She pulled off to the side of the road, closing her eyes and imagining the name. Rowan Road! There it was in her GPS! Her heart raced from excitement. Five miles away! She sped away at ninety miles per hour, every minute glancing at her rear view mirror. There it is! She recognized the same sprawling green bush, the only one for miles. She took a deep breath and felt his presence next to her.

  14. She took the long way. Through the old neighborhood, along a very familiar route from a lifetime ago. So much had changed, but it remained the same. Some businesses had closed, buildings had been demolished. New doors, new windows. They don’t erase the memories. They say you can’t go home again, but today was different.

    She arrived at the funeral home early. Classmates she hadn’t seen in years were there. They exchanged stories and small talk of people they had run into and the funerals they’ve attended. She nodded and smiled. She felt out of the loop because she moved away. But they all went through high school together, they were one.

    The memorial was led by a classmate. While there were stories to share, this wasn’t the time or place for it. This was a group of adults facing the reality of their own mortality.

    This wasn’t their first funeral, nor would it be the last. Speaking to one classmate, she asked, “Why does it seem like our entire lives are boiled down to one piece of paper? A mention in an obituary?”

    Funerals are for the living, the dead don’t know nor do they care. We are but dust, grains of sand piled high and tossed about by the wind. The big houses, the trappings of wealth—all gone. Like trees and a glistening pond in the desert, life’s simply a mirage—we think we see it but in reality it’s not there.

  15. The kids and I went camping at the Great Sand Dunes National Park. We sledded down the dunes. We frolicked in the creek. We hiked several trails. Danny snapped pictures of everything with his new camera. Ally played games with neighboring campers.

    Earlier, returning from a hike Danny said, “I saw a mountain lion, Mom.”

    “I doubt that, Danny. It must have been a mirage. The rangers would have warned us about lions.”

    Danny sighed. “Call me, Dan, will you?” he said. “I read about mountain lions. They’re everywhere in Colorado. I don’t think I imagined one.”

    It is nearly dusk when I prepare the charcoal for burgers. I call the kids back to our campsite. Ally arrives without her brother. “He said he was going to prove something with his camera,” she says.

    My chest tightens until I can barely breathe. What if he really did see a lion? Decades ago my classmate was killed by a mountain lion on a trail near our school. I’ve never forgotten the horror of his partially eaten body. Now Danny is out there looking for a lion.

    I dash up the trail, even though I know running resembles prey behavior. I shout his name over and over. When I stop to catch my breath, Danny rushes out of the trees. I want to hug him and slap him.

    “I got a picture with my zoom,” he says. “It wasn’t a mirage.”

    I stretch my arms toward him. And the big cat pounces.

  16. Nearly a decade of drought, division and debt left us weary and nearly extinct. Afraid to express opposition to a ruthless regime caused an underground movement not known since great revolutions of the past. Revolutions were typically waged against elitism, corruption and oppression. This one was not different.

    Posts on social media by those who wanted to destory us, encouranged mobs to pour into the streets, to riot, loot and burn businesses and properties. Some lost their lives. Our parched souls withered against a suppressive ideology. One that punished us for speaking truth until fear drove our waking moments and stole our sleeping dreams. We were thirsting for relief that seemed so elusive we began to think it would never come to a world gone mad.

    We’d almost lost hope, and then a warrior who’d always been there, opened the flood gates and drenched the land with a promise to lift us up into greatness again. Saying we’d never have to apologize for our excellence again and that we’d regain our dignity and respect. He vowed to protect us from enemies who’d already buried some of us beneath the earth’s crusty layer.

    We thought him a mirage until we saw the water he brought replenished the earth and gave life to all those who cherished the sweet taste of freedom. Freedom created in a crucible now burnished by the sacrifice of patriots. For without freedom, true love for one another, for country and for our Creator, is not possible.

  17. A stroke or bad footing, we’ll never know, but it is five years since the fall and mother sees only blue sky and desert. Before her mind was a rainforest, a vibrant eco-system inhabited by colors that flew, crawled, walked, hopped, and slithered. From that rich lifeforce she gave us panoramas, landscapes, and cityscapes. She even did some portraits, although the only ones I saw were of us kids.

    But the canopy cracked one day when she reached for a filbert brush and tumbled onto her studio floor. From that moment on the forest was in flames, evaporating toward the arid wilderness that remains.

    In the years since, as she lay motionless, I have tried to view it as she does. Through her mind’s eye I see her reaching for the colors as they bleed from consciousness, replaced with mounds of bone-dry sand and an ecosphere where her imagination strains to resurrect itself.

    A mirage would help, so she tries to catch any and every dart of color. But I know they have all but bled out. As time ends, I fear all that remains is a slice of blue sky, and even that is but a sliver.

    So now we celebrate her life’s work. It’s what we have. But in these final moments, I see her jawline crackle with determination. As the sands of Fate’s desert consume her once-florid fancy she fiercely searches for that mirage, that last oasis of color and life, before her sky is gone.

  18. Holding up his good arm to shield the glare from the desert sun, Del stared off toward the distant ridge. The gully between us and the ridge didn’t seem far—a good few hours on foot at most, probably less.
    I asked him if he could see any trails up the ridge. He just grunted and slumped back onto the ground rubbing a bandaged knife wound in his limp arm.
    It looked like our ship had gone down on the far side of the ridge. We didn’t see any smoke but she looked dead going down when we left in one of the life pods.
    I started down the slope into the gully leading to the ridge. I thought I saw a possible trail up so headed there. Del followed close. I held the wire leash tight so he wouldn’t run.
    “What’ll happen when we get to the ship?” Del said.
    “Don’t know,” I answered, “depends on what the Boss wants with you.”
    Dell, the guard, now my prisoner, just grunted an acceptance of his fate as we worked our way down the gravel slope toward either life or death.

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